Lawrence always gets a little wilder around this time of year, as a new population of college students arrives and starts partying. But police here have organized a welcoming party of their own.
The Lawrence Police Department is deploying a special detail of officers this week to greet the influx of Kansas University students just arriving in town. The detail is tasked with curbing risky behavior such as drunken driving, public intoxication and jaywalking, said Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence Police Department spokesman.
Police aren't saying the problem is unique to college students. But anyone who has been downtown, or near a busy bar elsewhere in the city, on a Thursday or Friday night during the school year will be familiar with sight of sidewalk melees or drunken people walking in front of cars. In one wild weekend in April, police arrested dozens of people for alcohol-related offenses, including 29 for drunken driving, three people for battery, six for open containers and two intoxicated pedestrians.
The department hasn't made public the number of officers in the detail, but it will be assigned to problem areas, including downtown, for several months. And officers will be more active in some areas than police have been in the past, McKinley said.
The officers may issue citations to those drunkenly walking into traffic, where patrol officers handling other calls didn't have time before. Any fights that break out in public are likely to end in arrests, where they might have been merely broken up before. Anyone walking around in public with alcoholic beverages, or behaving in a drunk and disorderly manner, could get a ticket, McKinley said.
Devoting a team of officers to this problem is a new approach for the department, McKinley said, and it may surprise some returning students as much as newcomers. For many students, Lawrence in fall means nothing but fun: new friends, concerts, and late nights on Massachusetts Street.
But there is a darker side to the party, McKinley said, that includes alcohol-related injuries and late-night robberies and assaults committed against young people who become easy targets on a walk home from the bars.
Lawrence has seen too much of that, McKinley said. The officers' goal will be stop dangerous situations before someone gets hurt, and to send a message to people arriving in Lawrence for the first time.
"We want to let people know that Lawrence is not a free-for-all place, where you can walk down the street with a beer, completely obliterated, and not be contacted by the police," McKinley said.
The police won't seek to stop people from having fun, or hassle young adults who happen to step onto the sidewalk outside their home with a beer, McKinley said. They will be looking for people who, often because of extreme intoxication, are putting themselves or others in danger.
"In some ways, we're protecting people from themselves," McKinley said. "We want people to come downtown and have fun, but also to be safe."