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Teen club gives police fine line to walk

Teens clogging Central Avenue around 1901 Club sometimes brawl and taunt officers. Handling things taxes the "art" of patrol.

Friday is teen night at the 1901 Club, named for its Central Avenue address. It offers a place for youngsters 13 to 18 years old to listen to music and, as many of them say, "hook up" with one another.

For the past several weeks, six to eight police officers have been detailed to monitor activity outside the club when it closes about 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

Crowds estimated at as many as 200 congregate in the middle of Central Avenue. Police cruisers stationed at 19th and 20th streets reroute traffic while other officers on foot mingle in the crowd.

Sometimes the police have merely to disperse the youngsters, getting them back on sidewalks. That's what happened early the morning of April 29 and again on May 6.

On April 29, tension had been apparent. About a dozen youngsters showed up just before closing time, gathering across the street from the club. They began shouting at youngsters exiting the club, and the two groups taunted one another for several minutes.

Officers moved in on foot. They walked slowly, hands behind their backs. Some, such as officer Randy Bricker, were smiling.

Eventually, the crowd melted away. There were no problems.

"Sometimes this is an art form," Bricker said a week later during a similar situation.

But on other early Saturday mornings, situations have been more volatile.

On May 13, several youngsters chased another west on Central, eventually tackling him. One assailant kicked the downed youngster in the head several times "with all his might," according to reports.

Police used pepper spray to try to disperse the group. A 17-year-old was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. He wasn't charged with a more serious offense because the victim was carried away by friends before he could be interviewed or examined for injuries, police said.

The 17-year-old also was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession and giving a false name to police.

Police also have reported fights on other nights after large crowds gathered in the middle of Central. At times, youths have thrown gravel and bottles at officers and taunted them, according to reports.

Several after-hours fights broke out again on April 22, with brawls occurring over a three-block area near the club, reports said. A customer leaving another club was pushed and shoved. "The group as a whole was in a mob mentality," Bricker said in a report.

Chuck Harmon, assistant police chief in charge of patrol, said officers who respond to activity near the club usually are working elsewhere on Central Avenue and move toward the club near its closing time.

Sometimes overtime pay is required, which comes from a federal grant, Harmon said.

The 1901 Club is the former Platinum Vault, an all-night dance club the City Council ordered closed last year. Owners Victor and Lorraine Ronchetti bought a liquor license to open the 1901 Club, a more traditional club. It offers adult nights on Thursdays and Saturdays, in addition to the Friday teen night, which has a $10 cover charge. The club is not open on other nights.

The Ronchettis say they have spent almost $600,000 on their 13,000-square-foot club, and that their crowds are getting smaller because of the heavy police presence, even on nights other than those for teens.

They have hired security for inside the club, and use metal detectors to make sure no one brings in weapons, Victor Ronchetti said. But he said he can't control what happens outside the club.

The police presence, he said, "has ruined a great business. And it's caused more of the problem with the kids." The Ronchettis believe the city wants to close them again.

Harmon said police would continue to be present until there are no more problems.

"The consternation comes in from the community when we provide services to a business and the owner doesn't pay for it," Harmon said. "Technically, legally, it becomes a public responsibility."