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Courts and Crime

Stopping unruly flash mobs
Curfews and anti-terrorism tactics in use in Cleveland area

Kevin Niedermier
Cleveland Heights police calming the crowd after a disturbance at a Coventry road street festival this summer.
Courtesy of Afi-Odelia Scruggs/Cleveland Heights Patch
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In The Region:

Curfews, proposed fines, and anti-terrorist tactics are all part of the reaction to unruly flash mobs that have popped up this summer. Groups of young people have used social media to coordinate gatherings at Cleveland-area events, not to break into dance numbers, as flash mobs are known to do,but allegedly just to cause trouble.

WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier reports on efforts to stop disruptive flash mobs, and reactions to those efforts.

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After an unruly flash mob disrupted a street festival on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights in June, that city instituted a six p-m to six a-m curfew for anyone under 18 years old not accompanied by an adult. Many residents were angered by the law. Some said the city should provide more things for kids to do to keep them off the streets.  Cleveland Heights Mayor Ed Kelly says the curfews in the Coventry…Cedar- Lee, and Cedar-Taylor business districts have prevented more trouble. And, he believes the controversy over the curfew has waned…..

Kelly: “We had a street fair at Cedar-Fairmont on Sunday, and at least a dozen or more people came up to me, business people, people who’ve live in Cleveland Heights for years, and thanked me for the curfew. The support we’re getting for the curfew is overwhelming…90 to 95% in favor of it.”

On Coventry Road on a recent morning, 21 year old Whitney Phillips of Shaker Heights walks to her job down the street.  She supports the curfew….

Phillips: “I think it’s a good thing to do because they don’t know how to act, tell them to go home. This is a public place, everybody comes here to have a good time, my mom used to tell me about this place, and for them to come up here and act like they have no sense, have a curfew, go home to your parents.”

Phillips is not alone…Marlow Baylow has lived just off Coventry for 20-years. He supports the curfew, but says unfortunately it hurts innocent people…

Baylow: “The fact that the kids are coming from out of the area, so they’re punishing kids who live in Cleveland Heights, who are nice kids.”

So far, Cleveland Heights police say four juveniles have been arrested for violating the curfew after ignoring several warnings.   Mayor Kelly says the city mailed information on the curfews to all Cleveland Heights residents so people shouldn’t be caught by surprise ….

Kelly:  “We’re educating people, we’re warning people, some people are new to the city, it’s their first time on Coventry, I don’t want them to get a ticket because they didn’t know about the law, that doesn’t make sense, it puts a bad taste in your mouth.”

Possible curfews in University Heights 

In neighboring University Heights, there haven’t been any unruly flash mob disturbances. But city officials are looking at possible curfews or ordinances making it a crime to instigate a disorderly flash mob. Mayor Susan Infeld says city has enacted no new laws, but has taken new precautions….

Infeld:  “To make sure all patrol cars are equipped with riot gear. If a situation was to occur instantly, there would be no need to call back to the station to have someone deliver the appropriate gear to a patrolman in a car. This gear is not something normally carried in a car.”

Taking cues from 9/11

Another precaution to prevent unruly flash mobs uses the same techniques employed to stop terrorists. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the federal government decided federal, state and local law enforcement and intelligence agencies weren’t sharing important information that could disrupt future attacks. So, the Department of Homeland Security established so called “Fusion Centers” at the federal, state and local levels. One of the big tasks is monitoring e-mails and other social media for keywords or patterns that could indicate a pending attack.   Now, the Northeast Ohio Regional Fusion Center in Cleveland is helping area police departments spot possible unruly flash mobs. Bill Shenkleberg is the center’s director…

Shenkleberg:  “It is Twitter and Facebook that our analysts do check. It’s open source information, there’s really no particular expertise to look at the social media sites, but it’s just to look for specific information of time, date and place of where a flash mob may be occurring. (Niedermier) ‘I understand there was a potential flash mob being instigated in South Euclid back in July that was thwarted by this process.’  (Shenkleberg) That’s fair to say.  There was an incident in Cleveland Heights where a flash mob turned unruly, and it was at that point that chiefs in those suburbs got together to develop a plan based on information they were seeing, it didn’t come out of the Fusion Center, that there may be a potential flash mob in South Euclid at Bexley Park. They were able to mobilize and strategize to thwart that, and it was successful, there was no flash mob.”

Shenkleberg says the Fusion Center also shares the flash mob information it gathers with all area police departments so they know what to look for, and what is successful in stopping disruptive flash mobs. Earlier this month, Cleveland City Council approved Zack Reed’s legislation calling for stiff fines for anyone caught using social media to orchestrate an unruly flash mob. But Mayor Frank Jackson vetoed the bill, saying it could unfairly impact legitimate social media users…and could be un-constitutional…

Related Links & Resources
Cleveland Heights Patch Coventry curfew story

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