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SALEM, MA— Police cruisers pulled into downtown shortly before 1 a.m. on Friday and stopped near the intersection of Washington and Essex streets. As young people spilled out of the bars at closing hour, the officers watched and waited.
That's when something unusual happened — or unusual for this September.
The large crowd dispersed in an orderly fashion.
For the first time this month, the Thursday night downtown bar scene did not resemble a tryout for "The Ultimate Fighter," one of those bloody, mixed martial arts television shows. It certainly was a lot better than the week before, when Patrolman Dennis King, who was working overtime to deal with the bar issue, went to the aid of a man who was down on the ground near the "Bewitched" statue being kicked in the head.
The crowd that night was large — more than 100 filling Townhouse Square, according to a police estimate. In his report, King described the onlookers as an "unruly and disruptive crowd that was not leaving."
It was the same kind of scene on the early morning of Sept. 5, in the aftermath of the month's first Thursday night. Three men were taken into protective custody for being drunk and disorderly — two for fighting and one for refusing to leave the area.
To some extent, this is nothing new, police say, almost a rite of fall. "With the colleges back, the crowds are that much bigger," said police Capt. Rodney Comeau.
But police and city officials say they are watching developments closely this fall and taking steps to make sure it doesn't get out of hand. It was only a few years ago that police had to battle constant problems at three former late-night establishments — Roosevelt's, Scuttlebutt's and Bleachers.
In her incident report two weeks ago, police Sgt. Kate Stephens said she was concerned enough about the issue to send a report to the Licensing Board.
Last night, the Licensing Board was scheduled to talk to A Fresh Taste of Asia about the problem. The Washington Street restaurant has been drawing big crowds on Thursday nights along with several of its neighbors — O'Neill's, Rockafellas and Gulu-Gulu.

Licensing Board Chairman Dave Shea said the board plans to increase inspections and will contact local establishments to convey concerns about reports of intoxicated patrons and rowdiness at closing time. While careful not to point the finger at any one establishment, Shea said the board hopes the businesses voluntarily take steps to reduce problems at closing hour.
But he also issued a warning.
"If they can't police themselves, we're going to police them," he said.
Police said they have been paying more attention to downtown bars for several months, putting a late-night detail officer on duty from Thursday through Saturday nights.
"This summer, off and on, it's been an ongoing problem," Capt. Brian Gilligan said. "Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it seems to have escalated."
When cruisers are available, they have been going to the downtown at closing hour to support the beat cop, police said. But they can't always be on hand when trouble starts.
"Unfortunately, this time of night is also the busiest time of night in the rest of the city," Gilligan said.
SALEM NEWS
 

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SALEM — There will be more officers on the street tonight as the Police Department tries to put an end to a series of ugly Thursday night incidents.
"I think you can expect an increased police presence," Capt. Brian Gilligan said.
There will be two or three patrolmen on foot and more in cruisers when the bars along Washington Street close at 1 a.m., police said. There has been one foot patrolman in the past.
"I don't think it's safe to have just one," Chief Robert St. Pierre said.
This beefed-up patrols come one week after two police officers were injured while making arrests in the large crowd that milled outside in the streets. Patrolman Larry Puleo missed a few days of work, police said, after being punched in the face and kicked.
Puleo has since been placed on "inside duty" after a video posted on YouTube showed him grabbing a man by the throat and shoving him to the ground while making an arrest for failing to disperse. This separate incident happened several minutes after Puleo had been assaulted, police said.
The decision to add extra officers actually was made about two weeks ago, Gilligan said, following a meeting between police and bar owners.
At a meeting hosted by the Salem Chamber of Commerce, five bar owners agreed to pay for the police overtime and to post no-trespassing signs in their restaurants with the names of anyone who is arrested, put into protective custody or involved in any serious incidents in or outside the licensed liquor establishments.
Anyone given a no-trespass order will be barred for six months from all of the establishments.
All of these efforts, Gilligan said, are aimed at stemming a tide of violence and unruly crowds that has marred Thursday nights for the past several weeks, when young people traditionally pack the downtown bars.
"Right now, we're at a point where we can almost guarantee ... a fight or some type of disturbance," he said. "We want to send a message to people coming out of the bars at that time of the morning that there's going to be a heavy police presence and will continue to be a heavy police presence" for the next several weeks.
SALEM NEWS
 
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