For fans, police alike, a Bear of a season

CHAMPAIGN - John Piland, the Chicago Bears fan, is somewhat sad to see the football season come to an end. John Piland, the state's attorney of Champaign County, is not.

"It's a historic opportunity for people who live around here to experience a Bears game," said Piland, who along with his son attended three games.

But it also represented a "significant increase" in workload for the people in his office who review arrest reports, decide whom to charge with what crime, and prepare the paperwork to get arrestees to court on the day after the games.

According to summaries of the arrest activity provided by University of Illinois Police Capt. Rick Kallmayer, there were 80 people arrested in or near Memorial Stadium for the 10 home games. Of that number, approximately 67 were charged with crimes, most of them minor misdemeanors.

Those numbers do not include people who may have been arrested for driving under the influence as they left the games to get home or crimes that were committed by fans in other places in Champaign County.

"We don't want fans to believe they can get away with improper behavior and have no one do anything about it," said Piland.

And Kallmayer noted that those arrested had really pushed the buttons of police to end up in custody.

"Our officers exercised a lot of discretion in deciding who had misbehaved to the point that they deserved to be arrested. There were many people who were ejected that could have been arrested, but who were not," he said.

A total of 460 fans got the boot from the 10 games. The worst games for ejections were the Monday night game against Green Bay on Oct. 7 and the Sunday night game against Tampa Bay on Dec. 29. At each game, 89 people were thrown out for misbehavior.

The game that came closest in numbers ejected was the Nov. 10 showdown against the New England Patriots. There were 63 fans tossed that day.

Piland and Kallmayer agree there is a distinct difference between the crowd demeanor at Illinois football games versus Bears games.

"It's amazing to me how different the crowd is on Sundays than Saturdays," Piland said. "No question it's the alcohol. On Saturday, if my 11-year-old son is with me, he can go to the bathroom by himself. If it's a Bears game, he does not go by himself."

"I would say that alcohol certainly contributes to people misbehaving. It's the lubrication that helps it happen," Kallmayer said.

But he said that's not the only factor. Many of those mischief-makers were fans who had the opportunity to attend only one game.

"If you're going to your only game of the season and don't have the investment that a season-ticket holder has, you're more inclined to break the rules and misbehave than a season-ticket holder.

"If it's a night game and you've had all day to get ready and it turns out your team is having a terrible season and they're getting beat tonight, the incidents of misbehavior are going to be higher," Kallmayer said.

Urbana attorney Brian Silverman - one of those sad to see the season end due to the approximately $10,000 worth of business he picked up from six or seven arrested fans - also observed that the crowds are extremely different from UI fans.

Silverman is a loyal UI football fan who also attended five of the Bears games at Memorial Stadium.

"(Bears fans) make a lot more noise. They're very critical. Their favorite word is 'sucks.' They swear a lot. They fall a lot. I have been fallen on and over twice. The people are coming and going because they can't wait to get to the concession stand to buy beer, but their behavior is not all attributable to the beer," he said.

Kallmayer agreed.

"The tone of the crowd and the reason that people come to National Football League games is not exactly the same as why they come to college games. There are a lot of very zealous NFL fans. They're very boisterous and demonstrative in support of their teams.

"When you mix that attitude with the alcohol and a more adult crowd where people don't feel quite as restrained about their behavior, there's a real difference in the behavior of the crowds. Anyone who came could quote you book and verse on how different that could be," he said.

Andy Jones, 22, of Villa Grove got a first-hand look at the effects of alcohol combined with fans frustrated by a losing team at the Dec. 29 game against Tampa Bay.

The Illinois State University senior was sitting in the horseshoe in the south end of the stadium when a number of men a few rows in front of him insisted on standing, much to the annoyance of the fans seated immediately behind them.

"They argued about it for a couple quarters," he said. Near the end of the third quarter, he said, one of the peeved seated fans grabbed the hat of a standing fan and threw it.

"That's when the fight started," he said. "There were probably three rows of people involved. They kinda tumbled down two or three rows. It was quite a big group involved, probably 10 or 15.

"There were a few punches thrown. I don't know if any landed. Once it started, everyone stood up in front of us," he said, adding that he couldn't see anything after that.

Asked if the arguing fans had been drinking, Jones replied: "Oh, yeah."

Jones said this was his second Bears game. He frequently attends college football games.

"It's a different feel. A lot of it had to do with the alcohol probably. There's a lot more yelling and cussing involved. It's a different breed of fan. I'm used to going with college students. They tend not to get as rowdy. These were older guys - late 20s, early 30s," he said.

The incident Jones observed was typical of what public safety officers dealt with, said Kallmayer, who added that the worst incidents police observed involved physical fights that resulted in fans being taken to the hospital for broken bones caused by falls and teeth being knocked out.

"Closely follow that by some of the violent domestic disputes. We generally had at least one domestic at every game," he said.

All that said, Kallmayer said police were pleased that the number and kinds of problems they dealt with weren't any worse.

"Overall, we were pleased we didn't have as many problems as we expected to have. I'm really pleased with the way the local public safety folks got together and planned for these things. The collaboration was highly successful. I feel we had the appropriate numbers of officers working these games," he said.

Kallmayer said when public safety planning for the Bears began more than a year ago, those involved anticipated a lot more problems.

"If anybody had projected how well it would go from just a production standpoint, we probably would have laughed at them," he said. "We're glad to have it behind us."

Bears game-day crimes range from minor to moronic

The theft of items worth less than $300 was the most frequently charged crime committed at or near Memorial Stadium during Chicago Bears games.

About a dozen people were charged with misdemeanor theft at or near the games, according to the Champaign County state's attorney's office.

A Riverside man tried to steal a compressed gas cylinder as he left the stadium. A Chicago man took money from unsuspecting fans to park in what was a free lot. Two others from Blue Island stole a cellphone from a woman's purse. A Champaign man stole a beer from a concession stand. Two men from Urbana and Brookfield stole a keg.

None of those is exactly the worst deeds in the broad scheme of crime, but they were charged, according to Champaign County State's Attorney John Piland, to "make sure no one got the wrong impression" about this community tolerating misbehavior.

First-time offenders who commit minor crimes are often diverted from the justice system to a program of public service in lieu of being charged. But that program is only for Champaign County residents, Piland said, and most of the people charged who might have qualified were from out of county.

Another 19 people were charged with the misdemeanor crimes of unlawful possession, consumption and delivery of alcohol; unlawful use of an ID; and misrepresentation of age by a minor.

The crime that probably got the most ink was that of ticket-scalping. Two people were charged with the felony offense of forgery for selling what were counterfeit tickets at the Green Bay Packers game, while three others were charged with the misdemeanor offense of selling tickets over face value.

Police said more than 100 people were either denied entry to the stadium or were ejected after trying to sit in seats held by legitimate ticket holders on the Monday night game. Victims reported paying up to $200 for fraudulent tickets.

Champaign attorney Ed Piraino said he represented close to a dozen clients, many of whose crimes were related to the misuse of alcohol.

One of his clients from Wheaton decided to "borrow" a UI golf cart to deliver his friend to a dormitory north of Memorial Stadium and ended up being charged with criminal trespass to a motor vehicle, a misdemeanor.

"They were easy cases. I had fun with them. They were very good clients who did stupid things," said Piraino, laughing all the way to the bank at anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 charged per case.

At least eight people were charged with criminal trespass, a misdemeanor, because they had been told to leave the stadium for some misbehavior and refused. The same was generally true for another eight who were charged with resisting a peace officer.

The most serious felony charged was aggravated battery. At least seven people were charged with actually causing physical harm to someone else.

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