Unofficial 2020

Unofficial St. Patrick's Day revelers ham it up for the camera as they wait to cross Green Street at First Street on Friday, March 6, 2020, on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.

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CHAMPAIGN — Proactive planning to keep students safe on Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day could account for the low number of scofflaws ticketed Friday. Or maybe students are just drinking responsibly or simply not interested.

“It was super quiet (Friday) night,” said University of Illinois police spokesman Pat Wade, who spent a good part of the day in a “command center” for law-enforcement officers monitoring the annual drinking fest that marked its 25th year, not with a bang but with a whimper.

“It was essentially a non-event,” said Champaign police Sgt. Greg Manzana, the department’s alcohol-enforcement coordinator. “Even just driving around myself, it didn’t look any busier than a football Friday.”

Although exact ordinance-violation numbers will not be available for several days, Manzana and Wade estimated the number of notices to appear in court issued at 12.

“The only reason I know that is because there were so few of them. They were all for underage possession and public possession of alcohol,” Wade said.

Compared to 364 notices doled out in 2011, for example, one might conclude the annual event thought to have started in 1996 is losing its appeal. With plenty of sunshine and afternoon temperatures in the 40s, the setting was hospitable.

“I think these things also go in cycles and the cycle is just ending. Hash Wednesday and Halloween used to be a big thing,” Wade said of cannabis- and alcohol-fueled events that appealed to students of the ’70s and ’80s.

Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin, who, along with Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen, did her part to discourage overconsumption with an order limiting alcohol sale hours and types of containers sold, said it was uncharacteristically calm on campus Friday.

“I just took a ride. It was very, very quiet, didn’t see any issues at all,” she said.

Wade monitors social media for harbingers and said a person asked on Reddit if students went to class drunk. The reply was “not anymore” because of security in place to deal with those who are disruptive.

“I know a lot of students don’t like the fact there are police everywhere. A lot of students started going home because they don’t want to be here with all the police around,” he said.

The strategy on the law-enforcement end, he and Manzana said, is to focus on public safety: watching for things being thrown off balconies, too many bodies crowded in small spaces, making sure intoxicated folks don’t stumble into vehicle traffic and preventing damage to property.

Several people were taken to the hospital for alcohol intoxication, but even that number was “way down,” Wade said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Victoria Dedman said one case in bond court Saturday may have been related to Unofficial.

A Champaign man was arrested Friday night at a campus apartment after he allegedly hit his girlfriend and head-butted a man who tried to intervene. The police report said the arrestee and his girlfriend of five years had been drinking since about noon.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).

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