GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When the sun goes down, Tyler Elias put his feet to his bycicle pedals, delivering sandwiches from the Jimmy John’s in downtown Grand Rapids. The Blue Bridge helps him get to where he needs to go.
“We go over the bridge all the time, especially at night. Fulton and Pearl — the bridges aren’t the best for riding,” he said.
But he’ll have to take one of those options on weekend nights for the rest of the summer because the Blue Bridge downtown will be closed overnight on the weekends after shots were fired at a pop-up party on the bridge.
“We just don’t have the resources to dedicate to a large, illegal, dangerous party,” Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom told News 8 Tuesday after the closures were announced. “The best way to deal with crime is to stop it before it happens, and that’s what we plan to do.”
Starting Friday, the pedestrian bridge and nearby Front Avenue NW will close from midnight to 6 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights until further notice.
“We’ve got officers assigned already. They’re going to put up barricades that say. ‘The bridge is closed, the road is closed.’ And then we’re gonna monitor it,” Winstrom explained. “Even if it takes four or six officers, better to utilize those officers in that way than later in the evening have an incident like we did over the weekend where there are hundreds and hundreds of individuals and over a hundred cars so that we would literally need dozens of police officers at the busiest time of the night.”
The decision comes after shots were fired around 3:40 a.m. Sunday during an illegal pop-up party that police say drew more than 250 people to the bridge.
“Fortunately, this time, no individuals were hit, but really, that was because of luck,” Winstrom said. “Vehicles were hit. With that many people down there, it could’ve been a tragedy; very easily could have resulted in multiple deaths.”
Six arrests were made in connection with the party and the chief said officers confiscated three guns that were being carried illegally.
“There’s people attending a party on a nice, hot summer night and they’re illegally carrying guns. It’s a recipe for disaster, especially once mixed with drugs and alcohol,” Winstrom said.
He anticipated more arrests and said surveillance cameras on the bridge could help police find suspects.
“We want people to know that when you’re on the Blue Bridge, you are being recorded, you are subject to surveillance. If a crime is committed, we will follow up and we will arrest you,” the chief said.
Last summer saw similar pop-up parties on the bridge.
“People on social media reached out to large groups and had people congregating on Front (Avenue) and then on the Blue Bridge, where we had individuals setting up DJ tables, large fights, a lot of drinking, some drug use,” Winstrom said.
“We certainly don’t want to see that sort of violence this summer,” Winstrom said.
He said a few of his officers can clear a party if they get to it early enough and there are fewer than about 50 people.
“If we don’t have the resources, the police cars, available because they’re going from 911 call to 911 call on weekend nights, because … we are very much understaffed; if we don’t have the resources, by the time we have the officers available, it’s too big of a crowd to deal with six officers or even eight officers,” Winstrom said.
At that point, GRPD has to call in help from Michigan State Police or the sheriff’s office, draining their resources, too.
“The best way to do it is to stop it before it happens. And really the most effective way to do that is to stop that party from ever starting. That’s what we’re going to try to do,” the chief said.
He hopes the closures will keep the peace the rest of the summer. He said last summer, police did not see the pop-up parties move elsewhere. The Blue Bridge, he said, has a special appeal and closing it will likely kill the idea of a party.
“It’s a shame that this group which was so intent … on having these illegal pop-up parties, really they’ve ruined that as a pedestrian pathway,” Winstrom said.
The police department noted that pedestrians can still cross the Grand River on Pearl Street NW and Fulton Street W. But you’ll have a little patience for the guys delivering your midnight snack.
“It might have to take a little longer,” Elias said. “Most people are pretty cool about it but at night, we do our best but it will be tough without the access.”
—News 8’s Michael Oszust contributed to this report.