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Published: Tuesday, 10/13/2009

Shootout at West Toledo bar spurs fears of criminal bravado

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A late-night disagreement between two men in a bar becomes a stare-down.

One side throws fists, and a brief brawl breaks out. Customers scatter. Tables are overturned. Friends on the sidelines straighten their postures and walk tough. Others grab their coats and head for the door.

Some physical commotion is not uncommon at evening establishments where alcohol is served. But it's what happened next on Thursday evening inside the Route 66 Kitchen in West Toledo that has unsettled some Toledoans.

With surveillance cameras rolling, several figures pulled out handguns and engaged in a shootout that raged inside and outside the bar for several minutes. Seventeen shell casings littered the floor or ground before the gun battle petered out, leaving a front door riddled with bullet holes and scenes of lawless mayhem preserved on video.

Amazingly, no one was hurt.

Not long after the black-and-white surveillance footage hit television and the Internet Friday, worrying began that the brazen violence on display could be more than an incident caught on video - perhaps an indication of growing heedlessness among Toledo criminals.

"The fact of the matter is when you have an underpoliced population like we have … there is a certain feeling of bravado that finds its way into those who are uncivilized, and that's the way they behave," said Toledo City Councilman D. Michael Collins, a retired police officer and former police union president.

The Toledo Police Department has struggled this year to make the most of its reduced force.

At 592 sworn officers as of last month, the department was down 42 from the 634 it had as recently as February. Jobs left vacant after retirements and 15 layoffs from the spring have not been restored.

Police Chief Mike Navarre has said the force is 148 below the peak of 740 in the mid-1990s.

Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, said he also believes acts such as the one in the West Toledo bar are consequences of criminals feeling that law enforcement has its guard down.

"People have become more violent because they feel more comfortable because there's not enough officers out there on the street," Mr. Wagner said yesterday, noting the Route 66 Kitchen at 406 North Westwood Ave. is just blocks away from the department's Scott Park substation.

"When someone feels more comfortable pulling a gun out rather than fistfighting, it shows you that they're not afraid of the law being there."

However, Deputy Chief Don Kenney cautioned against drawing such conclusions from Thursday's gunfight.

"The reality of it is we have shots fired every day in the city," Chief Kenney said.

"Right now we can't put the blame anywhere until we have a clearer idea of what happened and who the participants were."

Police had yet to make any arrests in the case last night.

But from what they know so far, the incident appears to be more of a random act than a trend, he said.

"I wouldn't say there's going to be shootouts every night in bars," Chief Kenney said.

Nevertheless, serious vio-

lence is up in Toledo this year, with 20 homicides to date.

That's as many as in all of 2008.

Chief Kenney said that some property crimes have gone unreported this year after the loss of five police department data-entry clerks.

He said police administration learned of the underreporting situation only days ago, and Chief Mike Navarre has taken corrective steps.

He said year-to-date numbers will be revised.

"The thefts were greatly underreported in the UCR," Chief Kenney said, referring to Uniform Crime Reports.

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner did not respond to a message yesterday seeking comment about the bar shootout and city crime levels.

Mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski said he watched the bar surveillance video and considers the incident very serious.

Although he said he objected to the earlier police layoffs, he was hesitant to draw any connection between the dramatic gunfire exchange and police staffing levels.

"I don't think one could do that," said Mr. Wilkowski, a Democrat.

"I don't think that this is something that occurs with great regularity."

A spokesman for Mike Bell, the former fire chief who is running against Mr. Wilkowski in the November election, said the incident points to the need to recall the laid-off police officers.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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