Campus, cities prepare for ‘Unofficial’ event
UI officials and police are working with area police agencies, and city and state officials to keep a lid on Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day, a commercial event that is planned for March 6.
Although the event is not condoned by UI officials, they have spent weeks in planning with city officials, police agencies and state liquor agents to ensure the safety of students and faculty and staff members, to prevent damage to university property and to prevent disruptions to campus operations and academic instruction.
Past years’ celebrations resulted in significant property damage in the Lincoln Hall theater and Foellinger Auditorium and led to the death of a UI alumna who fell from a motorcycle in 2006.
Last year, area police agencies – including the UI, the cities of Champaign and Urbana and the Illinois State Police – spent more than $30,000 in overtime pay during the event, Chancellor Richard Herman wrote in a letter to undergraduate students’ parents that also is posted on his Web page. Herman urged parents to talk with their children about personal safety and to encourage their students to act in the best interests of the university.
Police and university staff members plan to increase patrols around campus buildings and in Campustown during the event, focusing on safeguarding people and property, and paying particular attention to large lecture halls such as Foellinger Auditorium that sustained damage in the past.
“Our goal is that the staff members who support us will be bored because there is nothing going on,” said Peg Rawles, associate chancellor. “That would be a really good result. We plan to make this event as uneventful as possible.”
This year, the event was being promoted over the social networking site Facebook as well as by word of mouth, although university officials, city officials and police are hoping that strict enforcement will discourage large numbers of non-UI students from traveling to campus to participate. Many of the arrests and problematic behaviors during past Unofficial celebrations were students from other colleges, said UI police Lt. Skip Frost.
“We’re going to have zero-tolerance for any shenanigans – such as open containers of alcohol, fighting, underage consumption of alcohol and students trying to enter any of our large lecture halls intoxicated or carrying cups of liquids,” Frost said. “We’ll be focused on pedestrian safety and on vehicles that are not observing pedestrians’ right of way, but we’ll also be looking for pedestrians and drivers who are under the influence.
“If people choose to participate in this event, that’s fine and it’s their choice as young adults. But if they behave in such a manner that they put themselves or someone else at risk, they’re going to be cited or arrested.”
Enforcement efforts and monitoring of participants’ behavior during last year’s Unofficial, which was held Feb. 29-March 1, resulted in partiers being less disruptive than they were during previous years’ celebrations. Many of the temporary city ordinances and university policies implemented last year will be repeated, such as banning visitors from university residence halls, prohibiting Champaign bars from extending their hours and requiring establishments to check patrons’ I.D.s at all doors.
Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart recently issued an emergency order that will temporarily tighten liquor regulations. The order prohibits patrons under age 21 from entering bars in and near Campustown from 11 a.m. March 6 until 2:30 a.m. March 7.
Additionally, restaurants and bars will not be able to serve shots or pitchers of beer during the event, keg permits will not be issued for parties, and it will be illegal to possess more than one keg per residence. Police will have the authority to shut down package retailers if pedestrian traffic at their establishments impedes vehicular traffic.
Officials from the Illinois Liquor Control Commission will be monitoring establishments for liquor code violations.
Concerned that increased enforcement and restricted entry at licensed establishments may increase the number of private parties, the Champaign Fire Department plans to monitor balconies at private residences for overcrowding and life-safety violations, in addition to keeping a close watch on crowding at bars.
According to the city of Champaign’s Web site, increased enforcement paid off last year. Emergency medical assistance calls decreased by 54 percent – to 29 from 63 medical calls the prior year.
Last year, police issued 199 Notices to Appear – 89 for minors in possession of alcohol, 73 for possession of alcohol on a public way, nine for illegal possession of multiple kegs and 28 for various other charges, such as disorderly conduct and public urination. Police also issued 10 citations for Illinois Vehicle Code violations, six of which were for intoxicated pedestrians. Urbana police also reported a DUI-related hit-and-run.
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