Officials gearing up for Unofficial St. Patrick's Day

Officials gearing up for Unofficial St. Patrick's Day

Officials are concerned that an unwanted annual rite of spring could pose even more problems this year.

University of Illinois Interim Police Chief Jeff Christensen said police, the mayors and campus administrators have met to plan for how to deal with not just one, but two days of Unofficial St. Patrick's Day celebration.

"We don't even want this event, period, let alone two days," Christensen said. "We're not happy that someone would plan it for two days."

The event was begun more than a dozen years ago as campus bar owners offered special promotions before UI students left town for spring break and thus missed the real St. Patrick's Day holiday here.

Last year, local police reported about 180 arrests or citations from 7 a.m. Friday, March 2, through 4 a.m. March 3. More than two-thirds of those arrested or ticketed were from other college campuses, or even other states, officials said.

According to Christensen, officials are aware that a possible two-day event may be planned this year, though he questions whether many students can endure such extreme behavior for so long.

"Most people are worn out from one day," he said. "This is a high-risk event that's focused on alcohol."

Christensen said police and campus officials' plans for the unwanted Unofficial event this year will be much like last year, with beefed up police presence around large lecture halls and campus bars.

"We were pretty effective last year," Christensen said. "That same plan will be in effect. There will be zero tolerance for disruption in the classroom."

Campus police will again this year be assisted by security staff from the Assembly Hall. Staff from the dean of students office and other officials will be riding with campus police, looking for problem areas and assisting, Christensen said. Classroom security became an issue as unruly students disrupted classes, particularly at Foellinger Auditorium, Gregory Hall and other large lecture venues.

Foellinger was characterized as "smelling like a bar, sounding like a bar," Christensen said.

Last year, although the total number of arrests and citations was up – to 176 from 103 the year before – there were fewer problems in the classrooms, Christensen said.

That was supported by most, even those who support the event, he said.

"Some students are kind of proud of the event, but across the board, people were not happy with the disruption of classes," Christensen said.

The event has grown to include more and more young people from other campuses or other states, according to Christensen.

Among those receiving liquor-related citations last year were students from Parkland College, Illinois State University, Millikin University, Eastern Illinois University, the University of Illinois-Chicago, University of Indiana, University of Iowa, Purdue University and campuses in Texas and Michigan, he said.

UI students face not only tickets or jail for illegal behavior, but also academic discipline, Christensen said.

"People will be responsible for their behavior and there will be consequences," he said. "Even more devastating than fines or discipline are consequences that could result in you going to the hospital or the morgue."

Two years ago, a female UI graduate, Caroline S. Yoon, 22, of Glenview, was killed when she fell off an accelerating motorcycle near Healey and Wright streets during Unofficial St. Patrick's Day.

Champaign police Lt. Brad Yohnka, the south district commander who will be coordinating the city's policing of the event, said police will crack down on underage possession of alcohol, possession of open alcohol, criminal damage to property, disorderly conduct or fighting.

"Our big concern is the health and safety involved," Yohnka said. "There were so many kids who went to the hospital, it's a real concern."

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