Police, UI emphasize safety in Unofficial preparations
CHAMPAIGN — Public safety representatives who have to deal with the fallout of Unofficial St. Patrick's Day on the University of Illinois campus want to emphasize safety and not the negative consequences of the annual drinking fest.
"Our primary goal on March 1 is to ensure public safety," said Champaign police spokeswoman Rene Dunn at a Tuesday morning news conference at the police department.
Dunn said the theme that the public safety people have come up with for Friday's event is "Think and rethink the drink."
She then challenged reporters present to choose people to interview who have worked with police to promote a safe event.
Here is audio from the press conference.
Dunn said police will not issue regular updates Friday on the number of arrestees or where they're from as it has in past years. Instead, they will tweet hourly, between now and the end of the event Friday, messages emphasizing safety.
Police may use any of the following Twitter accounts:@ClarkCPD, @ChampaignPD, @ChampCoSheriff, @UrbanaPD and @UIPD. You can also follow The News-Gazette (@news_gazette), WDWS News (@WDWS1400) and other Twitter users who will use the hashtag #Unofficial2013 for tweets related to the event.
A final report with arrest information will not be available before Monday, said Champaign police Lt. Jim Clark.
Renee Romano, vice chancellor for student affairs at the UI, said the UI has been communicating directly with students and their parents to encourage them not to participate in the event, which is officially sanctioned by no one.
She said over the years, about 60 percent to 65 percent of the people arrested on Unofficial St. Patrick's Day are not UI students. And Romano warned that the UI will alert other colleges if their students get in trouble in Champaign.
"We hope the students from other areas get the message they are not anonymous when they are here," she said.
Brian Farber, associate dean of students and director of the UI's Office for Student Conflict Resolution, said last year his office sent 243 notices to other colleges and universities whose students received citations for Unofficial misbehavior.
Farber said Unofficial is the only event for which the UI does that. And it does so in hopes that those other colleges will discipline their students and, in the process, discourage them from participating in another Unofficial weekend.
As for UI students who run afoul of the local gendarmes, they also have to deal with the UI's judicial system. Farber said his office doesn't keep track of the numbers of discipline cases generated as a result of the Unofficial weekend but said punishment can be as little as a written reprimand to referral to alcohol education courses to conduct probation to outright dismissal from school.
"We have dismissed students because of stuff on Unofficial. One was because he got into a car accident and had stolen property. Others have been because it was part of a laundry list of offenses," Farber said.
"The university takes this very seriously," Romano said, reiterating that Unofficial is truly that. "This is not a university event.'
Clark said in addition to the regular patrols by area departments, there will be about 115 more police and state troopers on campus Friday.
They'll concentrate on:
— Pedestrian safety, including getting more message boards out telling drivers to slow down.
— Enforcing a 25 mph speed limit on campus in Champaign and Urbana.
— Enforcement of overcrowding at homes and apartments where private parties are held.
— Overcrowding on balconies and "zero tolerance" for anything tossed from balconies.
— Increased foot patrol and traffic enforcement throughout the day and night.
Clark said since the event began in 1996, private parties at homes have become more of a concern to police than bars.
"If you're going to have a party, keep it small," he said, and only allow invited guests who are 21 and over.
A change in Illinois law effective Jan. 1 means that the host of an event can be held criminally liable for allowing underage possession or consumption of alcohol in his home. And the host does not even have to be present to be deemed criminally responsible.
John Chambers, chief of enforcement for the Illinois Liquor Control Commission in the Department of Revenue, said his people will do compliance checks at bars starting Thursday night, all day Friday, and early Saturday to make sure there are no happy hour specials or other obvious violations of the law.
Champaign Mayor Don Gerard has issued an emergency order limiting alcohol sales Friday and Saturday.
Those rules include no sale of liquor before 10 a.m.; no special drink prices at bars or restaurants; no beer in pitchers; all drinks must be served in paper or plastic cups; no one under 21 allowed in a bar all day Friday or after 9 p.m. Saturday; no keg permits will be issued for Friday or Saturday, making it illegal to possess more than one per residence; and customers must fill out an "adult responsibility form" before buying 168 or more 12-ounce containers of beer or malt liquor, 100 ounces of hard liquor, or one keg.
In Urbana, Mayor Laurel Prussing issued orders on Tuesday that affect the Canopy Club, the only Class A liquor license holder near campus. The rules prohibit sales before 11 a.m., pitcher sales on Friday, and serving in metal or glass containers on Friday.