Lexington police are preparing to deal with crowds of potentially rowdy Cats fans over the weekend and are warning NCAA Tournament watchers to celebrate responsibly should the Kentucky men’s basketball team win Friday night.
In addition to city police, the fire department, University of Kentucky police and the Fayette County jail are bracing for what in years past have been fiery victory celebrations. Since 2012, when 50 people were arrested and 20 were hospitalized during a tournament celebration, firefighters and police with riot gear have been posted at the ready in the areas surrounding State Street and South Limestone after some tournament games.
This year will be no different, and UK Police Chief Joe Monroe said Monday that criminal behavior won’t be tolerated.
“We want everybody to be responsible in their behavior as they celebrate another Kentucky win and as we go for title number nine,” Monroe said. “One of the things that the university and (university President) Dr. Capilouto are adamant about (is) that any student violating the code of conduct could face sanctions by the university, on or off campus.”
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You’re going to have alcohol involved in some celebrations, so when you have that, people lose a little bit of their common sense sometimes, and we expect that.”
Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard
Monroe also said the university will use its system of 3,000 surveillance cameras to monitor any criminal activity on campus during celebrations. That footage could be used to prosecute students or residents who damage property.
“Our advice … is be responsible, be respectful citizens of the community and treat it with respect,” Monroe said. “Don’t trash the neighborhood, don’t turn over cars, don’t burn anything; let’s have a good time and celebrate responsibly.”
Other than minor tweaks, UK police plan to keep their previous procedures for handling the celebrations.
“We’ve got it down to a pretty good science over the last several years under coach Calipari, and we know what to expect,” Monroe said.
One of the few changes will be the amount of construction activity in and near the areas that are often the epicenter of NCAA Tournament celebrations. At South Limestone and State Street, the future Shriners Hospitals for Children Medical Center is taking shape.
UK Police have warned construction workers and foremen to remove loose materials that could be thrown at police or property and have asked them to remove batteries from large equipment, such as backhoes.
For Lexington officers, the big change will be the recently deployed body cameras, which weren’t worn during previous celebrations, Police Chief Mark Barnard said.
During large events, police don’t turn on their body cameras unless someone initiates contact with them or something happens that requires police action.
Police don’t expect to be able to stop people from burning couches or celebrating.
“I think most people will be responsible,” Barnard said. “You’re going to have alcohol involved in some celebrations, so when you have that, people lose a little bit of their common sense sometimes, and we expect that.”
Officers will be quick to respond if a dangerous situation occurs, Barnard said.
“It’ll be a very fluid response. Our first concern is public safety for everyone,” Barnard said. “If we see something, we will act on it. There’s a balance of going into crowds and causing worse issues than the issue itself, so we have a very tactical way to move into the crowd, secure the area, make it safe and put out any fire or any threat and then remove that.”