The two young women stumbled out of It's Brothers Bar & Grill, one leaning heavily on her companion as they made their way south on the sidewalk.
Lawrence Police Officer Tony Garcia was standing on the curb in the 1100 block of Massachusetts Street, his arms folded, as they passed shortly after 2 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning.
"I'm not driving," one of the college-age women, who appeared drunk, called out to him.
"No, she's not driving," added her apparently more sober friend.
Moments later a tall young man with a girl hanging on each arm walked by.
"How ya doing?" Garcia asked.
The young man smiled. "I had a good night," he said.
Welcome back, Kansas University students. Lawrence -- its bars and other nightspots -- have been waiting for you. And Lawrence Police officers are watching.
As sure as clockwork, crowds in the downtown area increase when KU students return to town each August. Police have been keeping a closer watch on Massachusetts Street and other favorite student haunts for weeks.
And Garcia, a 22-year police veteran, said trouble around bars and other nightspots always picks up when students return.
"There have been some fights," he said on a recent weekend patrol. "We're just letting them know we're here."
Large gatherings outside any bar can be trouble, said Officer Mike Verbanic, whose beat is the downtown area on the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.
"When you have crowds that basically just stand around and aren't going anywhere, then you can have some problems," the five-year police veteran said.
Despite appearances, though, Lawrence Police data for the past three years don't show increases in major crime downtown when students return in late summer. Reported incidents of battery, assault, vandalism or drug and alcohol violations don't show any consistent, appreciable increases over incidents reported during the summer.
Verbanic, however, was not watching the downtown crowd on a recent early Sunday morning. Barely 30 minutes into his shift, he was dispatched to 10th and Massachusetts streets to check on a possible rape victim. He found a shoeless woman sitting on the sidewalk outside Replay Lounge, crying. She was being comforted by a college-age woman.
Verbanic talked with the sobbing woman, then led her to his patrol car. He took her to Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where she was examined. And Verbanic spent most of the rest of his shift investigating the incident and contacting services that assist rape victims.
There were no problems outside Brothers bar. Shortly after it closed, employees came outside and shooed away the crowd of patrons.
"I think we had a bigger crowd last night," Garcia said. "I think there were more people out downtown last night."
Earlier that night, though, police had problems elsewhere around town.
About midnight, Garcia, whose job was to back up other officers on calls throughout the city, was sent to the 3400 block of Aldrich Street, in southwest Lawrence. An officer responding to a noise complaint found more than he expected.
A crowd of young people had taken over the area and were throwing a party, complete with a disc jockey and lots of beer. Red plastic cups littered the street, driveways and yards. Cars were parked on both sides of the street for several blocks to the Kasold Drive intersection.
The party was shut down and the revelers told to leave. Garcia directed traffic at Kasold Drive and Aldrich Street and made sure nobody tried to sneak back in.
A similar crowd and party later had to be shut down near 13th and Ohio streets, only a couple of blocks from campus.
After the crowd at Brothers dispersed, Garcia cruised Massachusetts Street watching for trouble. He stopped to check on an officer who was out of his car on 11th Street just west of Mass., talking to a shirtless young man standing on the curb.
The man had been caught urinating on the curb, Garcia was told. Garcia stood with the other officer as he wrote up a citation for urinating in public.
Two other men, who were apparently friends of the man getting the ticket, walked up and stood a short distance away watching.
"I had three cop cars here," the man said to his friends as they waited.
They laughed. "You're a bad dude," one of them said.
'School yard stuff'
A few minutes later, Garcia and another officer stopped to check on a small group of men and women who were arguing. Two of the men seemed especially agitated. They promised the officers they would leave.
A lot of fights that occur after the bars close downtown result from someone making alcohol-influenced remarks to a woman, Garcia said.
"Another guy steps in to defend them, and you have a fight," he said. "It's fourth-grade school yard stuff."
By 2:45 a.m., Massachusetts Street was nearly vacant. As Garcia drove slowly back and forth along the street, he saw three women on a bench eating ice cream cones. A man sat on a trash container looking at a newspaper.
Garcia slowed and stopped in the street when he saw a small group of men who appeared to be having an animated discussion. After listening a moment, he chuckled. They were talking about baseball.
"I don't see any bats," Garcia said, as he drove on.