UDPD steps up tailgate regulation
Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 05:10
University police plan to increase law enforcement at all home games this football season, targeting underage drinking and other criminal activity at tailgates with the help of undercover policemen and state agencies.
University police Chief Patrick Ogden, who joined the Office of Public Safety two years ago, said increased police presence at home games this year reflect a renewed commitment to enhancing student safety. In previous years, activity at student tailgates was not as heavily regulated.
"Everything that we do revolves around the health and safety of our students," Ogden said. "We don't want to give anybody a hard time. I don't want to ruin anyone's tailgating or football experience. It's all in the name of safety."
Ogden said officers' main concern is the concentration of thousands of individuals in one area. If an emergency situation were to arise within the crowd, emergency personnel would have difficulty quickly arriving at the site of an incident.
University police have also partnered with the Newark Police Department's Street Crimes Unit, which operates using plainclothes officers, for all home games this season. While the focus is regulating underage binge drinking, Ogden said the four undercover officers assigned to tailgates are also targeting ticket scalpers and illegal drug use.
The large crowd at the season's home opener Sept. 10 posed several safety issues, and although no arrests were made, Ogden said officers evaluated the scene in order to prep for future increased enforcement.
For Sept. 17's home game, university police reached out to the Delaware Department of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement and Newark police for assistance. The department does not impose its own set of regulations on campus police handling tailgates, but offers additional police manpower at no cost to the university.
Previously, these agencies would only be called in for Homecoming or other special game days. These departments were also present for Saturday's game against William & Mary, and will be monitoring attendees for the rest of the season, including during Homecoming on Nov. 12.
"The more people, the more precautionary measures we have to take," Ogden said.
He cited an example of excessive drinking at Saturday's game involving a 21-year-old student requiring medical attention because his blood alcohol content had reached .27. The legal limit for driving is .08.
"I'm worried we get a kid like that in the crowd, he goes and lays in the back of a car, and he dies," Ogden said. "That's my concern, is that these blood alcohol contents are so high. I feel like it's the right thing to do to increase our presence and try to curb some of this binge drinking."
At the second home game, university police made 25 arrests, with charges including underage consumption of alcohol and providing alcohol to minors. The third game day on Sept. 24 saw five arrests, and Saturday's game saw no arrests, with three students referred to the Office of Student Conduct for underage drinking.
Ogden said he believes these recent enhanced monitoring efforts have curbed student arrests for underage drinking. At the start of Saturday's tailgate, two pickup trucks arrived, one carrying 900 cans of beer. University police officers warned the drivers that they would be held accountable for each can of beer, especially if one were to be passed to someone under 21. The drivers left with both trucks, a move Ogden said prevented several arrests that day.
By game three, Ogden said the tailgate atmosphere in front of the Fred Rust Ice Arena was markedly different than the home opener, perhaps due to word of increased police presence spreading on campus. Attendees were participating in traditional tailgating games, he said, rather than raucously partying in the open space, which was filled with people during the first game.
"We definitely want people to come and tailgate and enjoy the whole game day experience, but the idea is that you're supposed to go to the game," Ogden said. "The problem is there's more students tailgating in that lot then there are students in the game."
Kelly Lawless, a 2011 graduate, also noticed a difference in atmosphere when she arrived at Saturday's tailgating festivities in front of the ice arena.
"This is just sad," Lawless said, looking around the parking lot. "There's no one here."
Lawless and her friend, fellow graduate Carys Golesworthy, heard from undergraduate friends that police were cracking down on tailgate activity. Golesworthy said this decision seems superfluous, as there haven't been any serious incidents at tailgates in the past to her knowledge.
"It deters the university community from coming to the game," Golesworthy said. "It's just not the same sense of camaraderie and school spirit."
Senior Brendan Vilar said heavier tailgate regulation discourages underclassmen, who typically fill up the majority of the student section in the stadium, from going to games.
"There's a clear cause and effect that attendance is the lowest it's been since 1998 since the tailgate crackdowns three weeks ago," Vilar said.