Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Group of youths...all it takes is one with bad behavior.

and there goes the neighborhood...or does it?

This evening as I was coming home from work, I stopped in our local McDonalds to check on an issue when I spotted 12 youth, ages 12 to 15 hanging around outside and inside the McDonalds.  Eventually all 12 found their way into the store.  

None of them had purchased anything and at one point all headed towards the back of the store where the restrooms are located.  A customer tried to speak to a few of them when he felt they were disrespectful to him, being too loud and abrasive, or at least rough-housing with each other.  

I got the attention of the manager on duty and he spoke to some of them and got them to leave the property without incident.  They did not appear to be overtly troublesome, but their sheer numbers appeared to increase their chance for mischief.

As a local elected official serving the neighborhoods where I live, I of course come across circumstances that normal residents are confronted with. Situations that can frustrate and aggravate law-abiding citizen and force them to question; what’s happened to my neighborhood, what’s wrong with the youth today?  Situations where a typical person may want to do something to change someone’s behavior, or call someone out for some form of nuisance behavior.

As a Councilman, my office receives lots of calls and reports of nuisance activities. Where nuisance behavior is chronic and the people involved indentified, we even go as far as meeting with the folks who report the activity as well as the people alleged to have caused the nuisances.  In serious, chronic cases that continue we even engage the City of Cleveland’s Community Relations Board and attempt mediation or at a minimum separate communications with all parties (landlords, tenants, neighbors, etc.)

Back to my encounter with my neighborhood youth… I left McDonalds in my car and followed the youth, as they were headed in the direction of my home.  I watched them as they entered a local shopping centre where they checked out a few stores and appeared to be warned again by a store employee to leave a premises after all of them piled in together and likely drew attention for their behavior as before.

I then followed them down one of our residential streets and drove a few blocks up in front of them to monitor their activities.  There were three girls, and nine boys.  Three or four of the boys were rough housing with each other and while doing so, running in and out of neighbor’s yards and onto a few landscape rocks, walkways and driveways.  Finally as they passed me and my car, parked on the side of the street, I saw three of the boys pick up some pebbles or small rocks and they proceeded to throw them at a mattress that was leaning on the front of a house.  The presence of the mattress itself bothered me.  It was either for sale or someone was moving in or out and seemed to have left it there unattended.

In wanting to continue my monitoring, I went to move my car, again ahead of the group.  While driving by them, my back window was struck by one of the youth’s pebbles.  I reacted pretty swiftly, stopped my car, put my flashers on and went to speak to the youth.  I tried to introduce myself and tried to explain that I was an elected official.  They didn’t know what a Councilman was and they assumed I was some sort of law enforcement person – I had a suit coat and tie on.

A few of the youth tried to engage with me, but their numbers worked against them and a few began mocking me and making juvenile remarks.  When it was apparent I was unable to reason with the group as a whole, I made a decision to call the police.  They were standing around me and witnessed my call.  They seemed befuddled.  Some began walking away, a few tried to stay back to see what I would be reporting.  I finished my call to the dispatcher while I was in my car.  One of the younger boys knocked on my window and told me he knew which boy threw the rock. I thanked him and tried again to explain to him I meant them no harm and just wanted to speak with them about their behavior.

Knowing that it could take time for the police to come, I followed the youth who continued to walk down the residential street.  They cut through a few alleys and I lost them for 10 minutes or so. By the time the police came, half of the youth were still hanging out in the vicinity and the together with the police we went to speak with them.

We spoke with the three girls and three of the younger boys.  Even with only six of them, they were loud, accusatory, defensive and rude, interrupting the police officers and wandering away from the conversation the officers tried to engage them in.

We ultimately took down their names, phone numbers and addresses.  The officers explained to them that they could of taken two of the 12-year-olds to their homes and fined their parents $150.  The curfews in Cleveland are – dusk for 12 and under; 9:30 pm for 13-14 year olds; 11:00 pm for 15-16 year olds and 12:00 midnight for 17 year olds.

Once I got home and checked out the addresses it turns out that a few of the youth live in homes that we’ve received complaints about over this past summer.  This past summer there were incidents I came across as well as received reports where as many as 25 youth were congregating and involved in similar activities of minor trespassing, rough-housing or play fighting in the middle of the street, blocking traffic and causing a raucous.  Their activities particularly bothered our older residents.

On several of these occasions parents of some of these youth defended their activities or made comments such as what else do you want them to do, they’re just playing.  Or, they're not all my kids – although four or five of them out of 25 were, and they were causing a neighborhood disruption for more than a half an hour.

Over the past few summers I’ve been able to effectively deal with smaller groups of youth.  In one example, two sisters who displayed rude behavior of littering, shouting obscenities etc.  In their case, I got to know their mother.  Got to know them better and their behavior seemed to improve.  Improve to the point they helped me identify other problem youth as they seemed to understand that their past behavior was not appropriate.

So after this evening’s incident, I’m thinking of several scenarios for trying to effectively deal with the youth I encountered.  One thought is to send their households letter, possibly meet with them individually as familes, or possibly as a group invited to a larger meeting.  I’m thinking of involving the City’s Community Relations Board staff, and of course the Police – either the Community Service Unit officers, and/or the commander.

I also want to use this opportunity to try to help empower other residents to report and act on this type of nuisance behavior.  We’ve periodically discussed writing down a neighborhood code of conduct or neighborhood norms or shared expectations for behavior.  I hate to hear people talk in generalities about nuisance behavior.  Too often renters are lumped in as a group of problem residents, but I’ve seen families that own their own homes present serious nuisance problems as well.  Too often this type of behavior can be too difficult to document and clearly identify, i.e., names, addresses etc.  And, too often the police don't arrive in time to catch or verify the nuisance, as the incidents reported aren't presenting an apparent or immediate danger and the police often have  numerous code ones or twos (more serious and immediate threatening incidents) ahead of your call that delay their response time.

Block or street clubs/groups can be enormously helpful in identifying and pinning down details, but they’re often hard to maintain and keep their momentum and usefulness going.  The local development office - Stockyard, Clark Fulton, Brooklyn Centre Community Development Office has been successful at supporting community engagement, and they are open to trying new ideas such as a relatively recent development of trying to organize Neighbor Circles as opposed to more traditional forms of block cubs.  They also assist a local resident driven Safety Committee that I’ll surely bring this issue and incident to their attention and seek their ideas and opinions on how we as a community can better deal with these issues.

Below are some reference documents I find helpful.  What do you think can and should be done to deal with nuisance problems?  Have you encountered incidents like this? What do you think?  Feel free to share in the comment section here, or join in a discussion at the Civic Commons.

Let me know how you view and are engaged in your neighborhood.  Or why you aren’t.  What are your hopes and fears and what can we do to help each other reach them and confront or soothe them?



  1. Thank you for finally writing about this issue - and I hope that your office and the City of Cleveland Safety forces will do something about it.

  2. What a refreshing and honest approach. I commend you for writing this. And lets' all be honest with one another, even 'back in the day' there were often groups of 'Youths' who wandered around looking for trouble who were bored, etc. This is not a new problem. What is important and seemingly lacking (IMO), is that neighbors do not seem to know each other or their neighbors kids as well as they did when I was growing up.

  3. I admire the fact that you tried to engage them. In the summertime the groups of teens have turned into dangerous mobs assaulting each other (not playing) or vandalizing property and threatening any resident that tries to intervene.I think it's time that juvenile curfew laws were updated to prohibit groups of more than 4 teens to congregate at any given time in the streets or in front of businesses or other public areas...but especially after hours. Also trying to engage local youth more in taking pride in their neighborhood with local pizza party clean-ups, etc. Kids act disruptive for a variety of reasons, but primarily it's for attention and to feel like they are not invisible which, unfortunately, to many of their parents, they are. It takes a village, and you sir are in a position to make a true difference in the quality of life of the kids and our neighborhood. Introduce new legislation to update juvenile ordinances, but also follow up the punitive with acknowledgement that these kids have the abilitiy to use their powers for good not evil and that yes, some in the village do care about them.

  4. Initially I was going to make the usual remark about getting CMHA to move all the worst people Back To The East Side.

    After reading your post I must say you've made a breakthrough in confronting and explaining things to dumb nuisance teenagers.


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