Warmer weather, balconies top list of “Unofficial” concerns for police

By Joseph Longo

“Unofficial is a completely weather-driven event,” Champaign Police Sgt. Joe Ketchem said. “Weather drives people in from the balconies and the houses.”

With seasonably warm temperatures in 2011, local police issued over 300 tickets, while police issued only 160 tickets during last year’s colder temperatures, Ketchem said. This year, weather forecasts predict temperatures will fall somewhere in between 2011 and 2015.

Discussing their upcoming preparations for Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, Ketchem joined the Urbana, Champaign and University police departments in a press conference on Tuesday. The University’s Office of Student Affairs also contributed to the conversation.

Because the majority of police activity occurs on the streets, keeping students indoors is a top priority. Yet this does not solve the problem for UIPD Captain Matt Myrick.

Balconies present a main area of concern; partying on balconies is enough to warrant police to enter buildings and the police see high numbers of injuries resulting from students falling off, Myrick said. Champaign Police have a yearly meeting with local apartment contractors about safety during Unofficial.

Yet non-University students present the biggest problem for law enforcement. In 2015, 42 percent of people ticketed were not affiliated with the University. In 2014, it was 56 percent UIPD Spokesman, Pat Wade, said.

“We have noticed in the past a lot of our problems come from outside of the community,” Myrick said. “Our students generally know the rules and respect our campus and community.”

Working with other “party schools”

From Indiana University’s Little 500 to Freakfest at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, several Big Ten campus communities hold similar party-centered weekends.

While the Office of Student Affairs does not ask other universities to inform their students about Unofficial rules and safety, they have a mutual understanding, said Vice Chancellor Renée Romano.

“I have meetings with my colleagues at other Big Ten Schools and so does UIPD with other police agencies, (where) we share information and strategies,” Romano said.

While Indiana University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison both have university-sanctioned events surrounding their party celebration, the University has no plans to make Unofficial official in the future. Student Affairs is even hesitant about holding university-affiliated alternatives to partying.

“When we have tried to have anything to distract from Unofficial, they have not been successful,” Romano said. “Students don’t come, or the facility might be vulnerable to drunk students or visitors.”

Issuing an “Emergency Order”

Last month, Champaign’s Mayor Deb Feinen issued an emergency order for Unofficial. Acting as liquor commissioner, Feinen prohibited businesses from issuing keg permits and bars and restaurants from serving drinks in pitchers from 10 a.m. Friday to 2:30 a.m. Sunday.jo

Feinen, a lifelong resident of the Champaign area, applauded students’ efforts to be more responsible and welcomed a decreased interest in the festivities by University students.

“Students are more conscientious and concerned about getting in trouble in class,” Feinen said. “Although they may still go out and enjoy a beverage at a local establishment, they’re doing it later in the day and trying to get their work done prior.”

View an interactive map of last year’s ticket hot spots here.

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