Kansas City police hope to lay to rest a trend, supercharged by social media and memorialized in online videos, known as “put ’em in a coffin.”
It played out, at least in isolated fashion, last weekend on the Country Club Plaza.
Two juveniles were arrested late Saturday after they allegedly damaged three vehicles parked on the Country Club Plaza by jumping backward onto car hoods, vaguely mimicking someone lying in a coffin.
“They can call it whatever they want, but I call it property damage,” said police spokesman Capt. Tye Grant. “It is immature behavior and it is a crime.”
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A two-minute video of the stunt was uploaded to YouTube. It shows a group of about 10 juveniles, including two boys who were later arrested on J.C. Nichols Parkway near Broadway. The video shows apparently teenaged boys jumping repeatedly onto parked cars.
At one point in the video, the group notices an occupied silver vehicle with its headlights on and appears to taunt the occupants. One of juveniles runs and acts as if he is going to jump on the hood, but doesn’t. The group walks farther east on Nichols.
Police arrived moments later and chased down the two juveniles. Police Chief Darryl Forté tweeted about the incident.
Similar incidents have gone viral, with people jumping on store displays, brushes, landscaping and other objects, including unsuspecting individuals. Damage left behind ranges from dented car hoods to smashed windshields.
In Newnan, Ga., about 35 miles southwest of Atlanta, a juvenile was injured when he leaped backward onto a moving vehicle.
Grant said the Saturday night incident — in which at one point someone also stood on the hood of a car, walked across it and jumped off — was the first time the stunt surfaced in Kansas City.
“While their acts were completely irresponsible and immature, I do not believe their behavior should be described as indicative of everyone else that enjoyed the Plaza and behaved as responsible citizens,” Grant said.
The victims involved in the incidents Saturday have told police they do not wish to prosecute.
In a blog post Monday, Forté defended how police have dealt with groups of largely African-American youths on the Plaza.
“Today’s method of policing on the Plaza is based on respect, with less emphasis on enforcement than in decades past,” he wrote. “Officers, both on duty and those working off-duty security for the Plaza, have shown a great deal of respect and patience for the youth who visit the Plaza.”
But he also said police “will not tolerate behavior that jeopardizes safety or behavior that involves any type of destruction of property.”
“Those who enjoy the Plaza will dictate our response,” he added. “We will engage at the level necessary to prevent crime and to keep everyone safe.”
Mayor Sly James said he was frustrated about the latest incidents of teenagers misbehaving on the Plaza at the first sign of nice weather.
He also was at a loss Monday when asked what more the city can do.
“Outlaw stupidity?” he suggested. “I don’t know what we can do about it.”
The mayor said he was mystified by the “coffin” trend. He questioned why anyone would want to do it.
“I don’t get it,” James admitted. “What sense does that make?”
A representative of Highwoods Properties, which owns the Plaza, said the shopping and entertainment district is dedicated to ensuring a safe environment.
“We continue to work closely with the Kansas City Police Department and Chief Forté, and follow their lead, to deter behavior like this,” Glenn Stephenson, a Highwoods vice president and division manager, wrote in an email.
“The safety of those who visit and work on the Country Club Plaza, and their property, is priority number one. And we are working in concert with KCPD to ensure that is the case.”
Since James was elected in 2011, the city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars each summer creating safe weekend activities, including late night Club KC music and dance events. Club KC and the city-sponsored athletic activities resume May 23 and run through Aug. 15.
James said juvenile crime dropped by 14 percent while Club KC was in session last year, but the city doesn’t have unlimited resources to expand the programs to early April.
“Somebody tell me how to pay for all this,” James said. “The city is still the city. We’re not every kid’s parent. Somehow or another, we have to have some help.”
James and other city officials have worked with police to try to reduce incidents of youth violence. Just before St. Patrick’s Day, the city put out a news release reminding parents of the city curfew. Individuals ages 17 and younger are subject to an 11 p.m. curfew on weeknights and a midnight curfew on weekends until the Friday before Memorial Day.
From Memorial Day weekend until the last Sunday in September, a summer curfew is enforced, with appropriate increased police presence.
For minors ages 15 and younger, the curfew is set at 10 p.m. For minors ages 16 and 17, the curfew is set at 11 p.m. in most parts of the city.
In five entertainment districts — the Plaza, Westport, Downtown, 18th and Vine and Zona Rosa — everyone younger than 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian after 9 p.m. during summer months.
The mayor has appointed a commission of business executives to recruit more Kansas City companies to provide summer jobs for youths, with the idea that teenagers who have jobs are less likely to get into trouble. But the commission is just getting organized and starting its recruitment effort, so the real results may not show up until summer 2016, James said.