Saturday nights source of problems at Skateland


March 29, 1992|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

It is 7:20 on a Saturday night, 10 minutes before opening at the Skateland roller rink in Towson.

The front door to Skateland swings open and 10 older male teens stride through the hallway. They leap over a 3-foot-high wall and elbow their way to the front of the line. Several of the older teens look back with an in-your-face smirk at 14-year-old Vernon Spriggs.

Young Spriggs and his three male friends have been patiently waiting in line for the admission window to open for nearly a half-hour.

Saturday nights at the east Towson Skateland, off the 1500 block of E. Joppa Road, have been a continuing source of trouble for management, police and the community.

Acts of vandalism and rowdy behavior occur regularly, and residents attribute it to some of the Skateland patrons.

The older teens who had jumped in line begin pounding their fists on the admission window, rattling the glass. Open up, they demand. Their voices are loud and punctuated with street profanity. Young Spriggs turns his eyes away from the scene.

One older teen puts his arm around a younger female and grinds his body against hers. She shoves him away angrily and puts her arm protectively around her pre-teen sister. The older boy laughs.

Five older men walk through the outer door and head for the entrance to the rink. They are private security officers. The admission window opens at last, and patrons in the long line begin to pay their fee and file into the rink. The process is slow: Every male is patted down by the security officers who are searching for weapons.

A security guard, who asked that his name not be used, said they have found concealed guns and knives in their searches. Those who "cop an attitude" about being searched, he said, are the ones most likely to cause trouble.

Two years ago, county police made special arrangements with the Mass Transit Administration to try to quell some of the rowdy behavior among teens who got off the bus at Loch Raven Boulevard and walked to the rink and back to the bus stop along Joppa Road.

The MTA extended its route to include a stop on Joppa Road near the roller rink. And a special bus has been scheduled Saturdays just to pick up patrons when Skateland closes at 10:30 p.m.

But problems remain.

One Saturday night in February after the rink closed, nearly every vehicle on four streets in the nearby neighborhood was vandalized. Residents blamed Skateland patrons.

Another night, a patron shot at another person outside the rink. And full-scale brawls have erupted inside. In recent months, county police have routinely dispatched at least four patrol cars to Skateland every Saturday night.

Bill Hacker, the owner of a 7-Eleven store one block from Skateland, said he has been forced to shut his store some Saturday nights after Skateland closes. Other times, he said, he has to lock the doors and admit people three at a time.

"If I let 20 or 30 kids in here at once, I'll be robbed blind," he said. "What else am I going to do?"

Last month, Capt. Roger Sheets, commander of the Towson District, met with community leaders and Skateland management to talk about the problems. One suggestion was to close Skateland when a big fight erupts. But police have urged management not to do that.

"This just discharges a large group of youths into the community who hang around until their rides or the bus come," Captain Sheets said. If large groups of teen-agers wander through the community, he said, "that would create more problems."

Another suggestion was to limit the number of patrons to 300. According to Skateland manager Joe Jones, the average crowd on Saturday night is around 500.

Michael A. Rommel, the owner of the Skateland rinks, said he will comply with the police suggestions, but that he can't do any more than that. "I can't control what happens in the community," he said. He added that he has not had these kinds of problems in his other rinks.

Mr. Jones said he employs five security officers Saturday nights.

It's the only night, he said, that he needs them.

"We bar troublemakers and notify their parents of that fact," said Mr. Jones. "Part of the problem is most of the kids who come here on Saturday night are not supervised by any parent, and we become baby sitters."

At a recent community meeting, residents decided to try to bring pressure on the owner of Skateland to change the type of music played Saturday nights.

On Friday evenings, when things are quieter, management plays pop rock or country rock. On Saturday nights, the music is mostly rap.

Dale Livingston, a community leader, said the kind of music played Saturday nights attracts a crowd of predominately black teen-agers.

"We think that the owners shouldn't play music that targets just one certain group of people," she said.

"If they played a better mix of music, we think it would attract a more racially mixed crowd," she said, adding that the crowds on other nights are either racially balanced or predominately white.

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