Utica Ave. and Eastern Parkway, McDonalds. Photo Credit: Kenley Hargett
Like all McDonald’s restaurants, the one on Utica Avenue and eastern Parkway in Crown Heights offers free Wi-Fi service. Local teenagers love it. And that’s the problem.
McDonald’s connects its Wi-Fi amenity to disturbances there. Thefts and assaults have become a common occurrence at the restaurant on weekday evenings, according to restaurant employees. Last week, police in the 77th precinct asked McDonald’s to cut off its Wi-Fi between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. The idea: to deter middle and high school students from hanging out after school.
The McDonald’s corporation’s online Wi-Fi slogan says this: “Your favorite McDonald’s meal now comes with complimentary Wi-Fi. Get some work done, check e-mail, connect with friends…for free!” And the restaurant managers say no decision has been made about the cops’ request. McDonald’s corporate declined to comment.
According to McDonald’s employees, teenagers have frequently engaged in thefts and fights outside and inside the restaurant. Cell phones and backpacks are the typical items stolen. Police are called regularly to break up fights and help to maintain the peace.
Employees describe the scene inside their restaurant as something like a concert, as teenagers make the restaurant their home. Laughter fills the room. But as the evening progresses, the older teenagers begin to argue and start problems.
“It gets out of control, “ said Kendall Kenders, a McDonald’s shift manager. “These kids come in here fighting each other and upsetting our customers, making them not want to come back, “he said. “Maybe it’s a home situation, or their not going home on purpose because their parents won’t get off work until late.”
Kenders’ frustration was visible, and fellow employees shook their heads in agreement with him. Marcus Richards, a street vendor, says he has witnessed fights and police involvement at the McDonald’s for months. “If I see a bunch of kids standing around the McDonald’s, I won’t go over there,” he said “They think they’re tough, and will do anything for attention including knocking you in the head for your phone.”
Richards has been working outside the Crown Heights Utica Avenue 3,4 subway station for years. He also spoke about the difference between winter months and summer months in teenager behavior. “Summer is much less stressful than winter for this entire area. It’s when these kids get out of school they cause the most problems,” Richards said.
The 77th New York City police precinct has reported an increase in crimes this year. To date there have been 11 grand larceny crimes and nine felony assaults this year. A McDonald’s security officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said he believes these numbers should be much higher and is not a representative of how many actual thefts and assaults occur in the area, in particularly around McDonald’s.
“October was the worst month this year,” he said. “And since it’s getting colder the kids come in here to stay warm, so we have to figure out a way to fix this.”