A moment in time in downtown Fullerton, 1 a.m. on a recent Saturday:
Two police officers respond to a radio call about an inebriated woman roaming the parking lot just north of Commonwealth Avenue.
They arrive to find a belligerent woman in her early 20s. She’s standing alongside a Honda Civic. Her friend, sitting behind the wheel, is passed out.
Fifty yards away in the same lot, a motorcycle officer gives a field-sobriety test to a young man who’d been driving a PT Cruiser.
Across Commonwealth: At least four officers keep dozens of revelers at a safe distance while other officers question a man in his 20s suspected of fighting inside a bar. The man is handcuffed.
A call comes in about a fight on South Pomona Avenue. And another on a scuffle at a bar three blocks away.
This scenario – multiple alcohol-fueled incidents within an area rife with bars – is typical, said an officer whose job it is to maintain order in the zone.
“A lot of times we are just putting out fires more so than anything else before they become bigger problems,” said Cpl. Eric Song, who patrols with a partner in downtown Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
For years, the city has struggled to control bar patrons in its downtown. At least 4,000 partyers, many from outside of Orange County, routinely converge on downtown on a Friday or Saturday night, Song said. There are about 20 businesses that serve alcohol in the area after 10 p.m.
“I just want people to be safe,” he said. “That is my entire goal.”
One of the more volatile spots: A parking lot behind the southwest corner of Harbor Boulevard and Wilshire Avenue, where five entrances to five bars are clustered. At closing time on a recent Saturday, perhaps 1,000 patrons – dozens obviously inebriated – funneled through a courtyard and into the parking lot.
“We really try to clear this place as quickly as possible,” Song said. “The longer they start loitering, the more of a chance for fighting.”
Hanging out with friends outside a bar on Santa Fe on a recent Friday night, Karen Lozano, 22, of Placentia talked about revelry that sometimes goes too far.
“Things get crazy here,” she said. “I’ve seen people get out of control. I’ve seen women get in fights. I’ve seen people throw up all over themselves.”
In April, downtown bar owners began collaborating with the police on potential ways to curtail alcohol-related problems. Spearheaded in part by Jeremy Popoff, owner of the SlideBar Rock-N-Roll Kitchen on Commonwealth, dozens of restaurant and bar owners formed the Downtown Restaurant Association. The group meets with police about once a month.
“Everybody has the same goal of solving the problems that affect all of us,” Popoff said.
Some bouncers wear yellow jackets near closing time, to create a larger, more uniformed presence.
Owners have started an “86” list of patrons who’ve been banned from a bar and then share the information with other establishments.
Popoff recently hired a private security firm to maintain order inside his club and in the adjoining parking lot. Other owners are considering the same move.
More measures are coming. The city received a $39,000 grant from the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, so undercover officers will go into bars to search for over-serving of alcohol and alcohol being served to minors.
“If there is less serving and less intoxication, there are less problems all the way down the line,” said Lt. Andrew Goodrich, the Police Department’s watch commander on weekend nights.
Is this push by police, along with the bar and restaurant owners, working?
There has been a slight downtick in incidents in the area on weekend nights, Goodrich said. However, more time is needed to determine the recent measures’ effectiveness.
And city officials are mulling over giving themselves another tool.
If patrons are charged to park in the city’s lots – which are now free – then the city would have more revenue to provide the area with even more security.
By LOU PONSI / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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