Rowdy teens force tighter security in east side suburbs

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Unruly teens have become such a problem in some near east side suburbs that one local church is fighting back with an 8-foot fence.

St. Clair Shores’ venerated St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church plans to build the fence around its annual spring festival next month to keep out rowdy youths. It also won’t allow anyone younger than 18 into the festival after 6 p.m. each day of the three-day event, unless accompanied by an adult and those adults will have to show valid driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs.

Monsignor G. Michael Bugarin, the church’s pastor, told The News on Friday that teens who have come to the festival in past years to start fights are the reason behind the new security measures.

“There have been groups of teenagers who have caused issues in the past,” Bugarin said. “We’ve always been able to combat those issues.”

The festival is the latest event in the area forced to deal with teen troublemakers. Nearby, Grosse Pointe Woods will again not hold its traditional fireworks display this year after concerns over teen activity two years ago led to its cancellation.

In a letter published in St. Joan of Arc’s bulletin last weekend, Bugarin told parishioners about plans to tighten security at the 46-year-old festival, which runs May 20-22. The church is on Overlake near Greater Mack and Eight Mile.

“Please know that these plans are being put into place so that our festival, which has been in existence for 46 years now, can continue and at the same time remain safe and family-friendly,” he wrote.

St. Clair Shores Police Chief Todd Woodcox said his staff has been working with the church and festival’s organizers to increase security around the event.

“There have been mounting issues at the festival over the last couple of years with people who aren’t there to enjoy it but show up only to cause problems,” he said. “They’re usually younger people with time on their hands and nothing else to do but show up and cause problems.”

To be clear, Woodcox added, not all youngsters attend the festival with mischief on their minds.

“A lot of younger people want to be there to enjoy the rides and have fun, but they can’t when they’re constantly jostled about and crowded out by people who have no business there other than to cause problems,” he said. “It’s a shame because it’s a great family-friendly event.”

It’s not the first time trouble-making youngsters have been disruptive in the three communities that share borders.

Two years ago, nine teens were arrested at Harper Woods High School on the last day of class for a brawl that spilled out into the surrounding neighborhood. Residents say similar donnybrooks happen every year.

Fights reported

Last year, Grosse Pointe Woods canceled its annual fireworks display due to concerns about fights and reported gang activity at the previous summer’s show. At least 13 fights among teens were reported that year, even though there were 35 Grosse Pointe Woods police officers and 60 other city employees on-site to provide security.

City officials initially considered moving the show from its traditional location on Parcells Middle School’s athletic field near Vernier and Mack to a gated, city-owned park in St. Clair Shores. They decided to pull the plug on the spectacle, citing the need for special permits and projected increased costs.

Grosse Pointe Woods Mayor Robert Novitke said Friday the city won’t have a show this year either.

“We’ve decided we’re not going to do the fireworks,” he said. “We vetted it well and looked at a different location.”

Novitke said the fights in addition to the show’s cost to the city were among the issues officials weighed in their decision.

“It’s a shame because people used to have parties around the fireworks every year,” he said. “But going back the last few years, it became something different. It wasn’t working anymore. (Canceling it) was just the culmination. It was just time, I guess.”

Fences for more control

Meanwhile in nearby St. Clair Shores, St. Joan of Arc has 1,750 feet of temporary fencing ready to build around the grounds where it will hold its festival. The festival is one of the major fundraisers the church holds throughout the year.

“Many meetings have taken place with our staff, festival chairs and city officials to make sure our decisions in these matters were fully compliant with state and local ordinances,” Bugarin wrote to parishioners. “The fencing project alone will be an added expense of about $20,000. But we agree it is worth it.”

The monsignor said the parish will also charge those 5 and older $1 for admission to offset the cost of the fencing. It also will seek donations and advertisers to help cover the expense.

Bugarin said the church and organizers of the festival decided it was time to get greater control over the event’s entrances and exits. He said plans call for the festival to have only one or two entrances with turnstiles. Everyone who enters will also have their hand stamped so they can leave and re-enter for the day.

“For the first time, we’ll know exactly how many people will be on campus,” Bugarin said. “That’s going to be a very major addition to the festival. I’m looking forward to seeing how many people are on site at any given time.”

Bugarin also noted in his bulletin announcement that “security cameras will also be in place at the entrances and throughout the festival grounds.”

In addition, no one will be permitted to bring backpacks into the festival at any time, he said.

Bugarin said what the church is doing for this year’s festival is nothing new at civic events or similar church festivals around Metro Detroit.

Woodcox said he thinks the church’s effort to increase security is a good idea.

“The goal is to prevent people who just want to show up and cause problems from getting in but still make it accessible and a decent value for those who want to show up and actually have a good time,” he said.

Woodcox also said the small admission fee should help keep the riff-raff out.

“People don’t usually want to spend money to cause problems,” he said. “Just a small entry fee is going to really limit that. And we won’t have people coming and going from all areas of the park. It’ll just be at certain limited entry access points.”

So far, Bugarin said he’s received nothing but positive feedback from the community.

“I’m absolutely convinced there’s no negative image about this being conveyed because of this,” he said. “I’m pretty confident about the whole thing. I think it’s a win-win for the community and for us. I think it’s going to be great positive thing for us.”

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