Kentucky in the final four: two special sections today

Police: We're prepared for big crowds, celebrations

More than 200 officers will patrol downtown, UK campus areas

jkegley@herald-leader.comApril 2, 2011 

Lexington Police Chief Ronnie Bastin discussed crowd control on Friday. Also at the meeting were UK Police Chief Joe Monroe, left, and Commissioner of Public Safety Clay Mason.

CHARLES BERTRAM | STAFF

Police don't know how many people will flood downtown Lexington and the University of Kentucky campus Saturday night after the UK-Connecticut men's basketball game Saturday.

UK Police Chief Joe Monroe off-handedly suggested 20,000 people. When asked how many he expected, Lexington police Assistant Chief Mike Bosse leaned into the microphone and said, "lots."

Regardless, police and firefighters said at a news conference Friday that they are prepared to handle the masses.

More than 200 Lexington police officers, sheriff's deputies and UK police officers will be positioned in the downtown and UK campus areas on Saturday. More will be on hand Monday, if the Wildcats beat the Huskies and advance to the finals.

Police got a small test on Sunday when hundreds of UK fans rushed to the intersection of Woodland and Euclid avenues after UK defeated the University of North Carolina, advancing to the NCAA Tournament's Final Four for the first time in 13 years.

There were a lot of chants, fist pumping and shirtless people on Sunday. But that crowd was tame in comparison to what could come Saturday. Police know this from dealing with Final Four championship crowds in 1998 and 1996.

In 1998, an estimated 12,000 people ventured downtown to celebrate.

Still, Bosse said it would be difficult to compare the 1998 number to this year's potential crowds. That's because a lot has changed in 13 years, particularly with internet sites like Facebook and Twitter, which can quickly spread the gospel of the Big Blue Nation and lure people to downtown parties and street celebrations.

"We have social networking, which could change the dynamics of information that gets out to people," Bosse said. "We're taking all that into account."

Bosse said police were aware of an impromptu block party on South Limestone that was organized on Facebook and spread on Twitter and other mediums. More than 9,000 people said they would attend the event, a number that kept climbing even after the planners called it off after the city refused to sanction it. The page had been removed from Facebook's event listings Friday, but many folks had said earlier in the week that they would be on South Limestone anyway.

Bosse said police will go wherever the crowd is. Officers will be keeping an eye on Limestone, as well as Euclid and Woodland avenues, the usual spots for student celebrations.

It was the celebration in 1996 that gave police the most insight into dealing with riot-like behavior.

In 1996, some $40,000 in damage occurred after the Wildcats beat Syracuse University in the championship game. Dozens, including fans, police officers and reporters, were hit with bottles, and a WTVQ news van was overturned and set on fire.

Monroe has said Lexington and UK police have been planning for the game's aftermath for days. The 1996 celebration has been the topic of discussion in many of those meetings because it's a vivid example of how quickly a crowd can form.

But police say they have learned valuable lessons. They know that excited fans might decide to climb utility poles and that couches could be offered up as fiery sacrifices.

Police say they have not seen such a riotous celebration since, and they don't expect a riot Saturday. Even in 1996, the majority of people weren't causing trouble, Bosse said.

"Based on past history, 99.9 percent of our fans are good fans who come just to have a good time and want to celebrate, and they're very conscious of other people's safety and very conscious of not damaging other people's property," he said. "But we are there for those fans who misbehave."

Police will be using officers on horseback to help control crowds. A helicopter will be available if needed, Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.

Bosse said police will be taking videos of the crowd from several vantage points. He encouraged anyone who sees criminal activity to find one of the hundreds of officers who will be walking around. If no officer is around, he said witnesses should take pictures or video of criminal behavior using cell phone cameras, referring to the 1996 celebration when police used amateur footage of the riotous celebration to pursue several felony charges.

The Division of Fire also will have more firefighters than usual on hand to staff fire trucks and ambulances if needed, Assistant Fire Chief David Mattingly said.

Mattingly encouraged revelers not to set couches on fire. Burning couches could spread to buildings and lead to a felony arson charge. Even on private property, setting a fire "not only creates a danger but it is a violation of local ordinance," he said.

Bosse said setting couches on fire in the street could cause a problem for emergency vehicles that need to pass through. Direct routes for emergency vehicles to local hospitals would be cleared of pedestrians, he said.

The city's Division of Code Enforcement has been working to clear streets and lawns since Friday morning, Director David Jarvis said.

Officials drove around town cleaning up trash and searching for sofas that had already been dragged outside. If there was any indoor furniture on lawns, garbage trucks would haul them away per city ordinance.

Jarvis said staffing for the tournament games would create some overtime costs to the city, but it was too early to say how much.

Bosse said police eliminated much of their overtime costs through rescheduling.

"We have changed the officers' days off and their shift times in order to accommodate the largest number of officers that we can have," he said.

While police will have a visible presence, Bosse said it wouldn't be a heavy-handed enforcement as long as fans behaved. Officers have been encouraged to chat with partygoers and have fun.

"A lot of people come up and want their pictures taken with the officers. We encourage that," he said.

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