Just in case thousands of people spill into city streets Friday night in drunken celebrations that have previously included the burning of couches, officials from Lexington and the University of Kentucky implored fans to celebrate safely and respect their neighbors.
Two years ago, UK and the University of Louisville met in the Final Four for the first time in NCAA history. This year, the teams face off Friday in the NCAA Sweet 16, and officials wanted to get ahead of celebrations that have led to the destruction of couches and vehicles, and the hurling of objects into crowds.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and UK President Eli Capilouto announced a joint city-UK initiative "during and after this weekend's games to help ensure safety and coordinated enforcement efforts," according to a news release.
"This is an exciting time for our men's and women's teams, the university and the Big Blue Nation," Capilouto said in the news release. "But our celebration can be quickly tarnished by a few people choosing to act recklessly. We all must be vigilant and take care of one another to responsibly support our teams' success. Our safety plan — in partnership with the city — is a reminder of our expectations for everyone in celebrating and the consequences if those few people don't uphold those expectations."
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In early April 2012, jubilation over Kentucky's win over Louisville quickly turned into scenes of couch-burning mayhem in key celebratory areas around campus. State Street became the epicenter of couch burning. Moments after the victory, the street filled with thousands of people, smoke and flying beer bottles. It was soon followed by bottle-dodging officers in riot gear with fire extinguishers and batons. A UK freshman was charged with arson after a car was overturned and set afire.
When UK won the championship game, police had arrested about 50 people. About 60 fires were reported and more than 20 people, including a shooting victim, were taken to the hospital.
"Let's cheer. Let's celebrate. Let's respect neighbors. Let's be safe," Mayor Jim Gray said.
Robert Mock, UK's vice president for student affairs, said UK students should be aware that, as in past years, "if they engage in dangerous or criminal behavior, not only will they be subject to criminal charges, but also may face penalties from the university through the Student Code of Conduct judicial process."
UK and Lexington public safety officials are working together to protect citizens and property this weekend. UK police will work closely with Lexington firefighters and police.
"We are expecting a great game and good behavior from all UK basketball fans this weekend," Police Chief Ronnie Bastin said. "We're doing our part to make sure traffic flows well, the streets are safe and everyone can enjoy a good time. We ask citizens to do their part by being responsible, respectful and choosing not to drink and drive. If there are enforcement or safety issues, we're prepared to handle them."
UK Police Chief Joe Monroe echoed Bastin's comments, saying, "We want the UK and Lexington communities to know that safety is our top priority."
"We appreciate fans wanting to celebrate safely and respectfully, however, we are prepared to take action if celebrations turn into dangerous or criminal acts," Monroe said.