CHAMPAIGN – Police will have extra patrols, and University of Illinois officials will be watching out for any problems this Friday during what has become known locally as "Unofficial St. Patrick's Day."
Champaign police Lt. Holly Nearing said there will be additional officers working that day, specifically assigned to work the campus area and adding staff for the morning and mid-day. They will look for and address problems, including binge drinking and underage drinking, she said.
"This event has been around since the late 1990s, but in the past couple of years, there has been an increase in safety problems," Nearing said. "Last year, the problems were larger than they were before and caused a lot of safety concerns."
In March 2005, some campus bars opened at 8 or 9 a.m. and large crowds gathered early in the day. Champaign police made 83 arrests for intoxicated people committing crimes resulting in personal injuries, disorderly conduct, damage to property and underage drinking, she said.
Champaign normally has staffing to deal with alcohol-related issues in and around the campus bars late at night, but does not normally staff for such problems to begin at 8 or 9 in the morning, Nearing said.
"This year, we are making a concerted effort to get a handle on things early in the day," Nearing said.
The goal is to encourage students to support responsible conduct and take a stand against overconsumption of alcohol, Nearing said.
Managers at Murphy's Pub and Fire Haus had no comment Friday.
Bill Riley, interim vice chancellor at the UI, said campus police have been working with Champaign police trying to assure public safety generally.
"Safety has been a priority this year," Riley said.
A year ago, there were many pedestrians in campus area endangering themselves and those in vehicles by wandering into streets as they moved through Campustown, Riley said.
That's an issue that will get particular attention during the "Unofficial" event, Riley said. He also met with officials from the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District to talk about increased pedestrian traffic on that day.
"I know they are going to be more vigilant," Riley said. "The primary motive is public safety."
Campus officials did see some disruption of classes by intoxicated people last year, Riley said. The administration will advise faculty on their options in controlling classrooms for any disruption, he said.
Another particular concern, Riley said, is students who end up at emergency room hospitals with problems from alcohol overdoses.
Dr. Robert Kiskaddon, emergency room physician at Carle Foundation Hospital, said, "Every year, we see a tremendous number of students who don't ordinarily drink that much that come into our emergency room."
Frequently, they will come in unconscious, he said. Often they have fallen down and have cuts.