Police ask city to ban rooftop access during NCAA Tournament due to safety concerns

In this file photo from March 25, 2012, Kansas fans on Massachusetts Street take to rooftops after the Jayhawks defeated North Carolina to head to the Final Four.

In an effort to improve safety, Lawrence police would like the city to ban people from downtown rooftops in anticipation of the University of Kansas men’s basketball team’s advancement in the NCAA Tournament.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider the police department’s request to temporarily prohibit rooftop access — enforceable by a potentially hefty fine — along Massachusetts Street during the upcoming Elite 8 and Final Four weekends.

Although the city annually bans glass bottles downtown during the final stages of the tournament, this is the first year that the police department has requested the rooftop ban. Sgt. Amy Rhoads said in an email to the Journal-World that with the thousands of people anticipated to be in the downtown for potential celebrations, the department strongly believes it will create a safer environment.

For one, Rhoads said interactions of people on rooftops with people in the street can create “log jams” of street revelers, which can lead to hazardous conditions. She said people on rooftops can also more directly impact safety on the streets below.

“Additionally, people on rooftops pose safety concerns related to thrown objects, falls, and other safety impacts, especially given the amount of alcohol consumed prior to and during those celebrations,” Rhoads said.

The temporary ordinance would make it illegal for building owners, their agents or their tenants to allow access to rooftops along Massachusetts Street, between the north edge of Sixth Street and the south edge of North Park Street, for the final stages of the tournament. A memo to the City Commission states that the ordinance “will greatly improve the safety of our citizens and our police officers.”

The rooftop ban would be in addition to the city’s annual ban on the possession of glass bottles or other glass containers in the downtown area for the same time period. Specifically, rooftop access and glass bottles would be prohibited from noon on Saturday through 6 a.m. Monday. For the Final Four, the bans would be in place from noon Saturday, March 31, to 6 a.m. Tuesday, April 3. The Lawrence Police Department typically requests that downtown businesses serve drinks in plastic those weekends.

The penalty for violating the rooftop ban calls for a $1 to $1,000 fine, a jail term not to exceed 180 days, or both, according to the memo. If caught with glass, violators face a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100.

Both temporary ordinance requests are part of the commission’s consent agenda. The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

Update (March 20)

• The Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve the police department’s request to temporarily prohibit rooftop access along Massachusetts Street during the upcoming Elite Eight and Final Four weekends of the NCAA Tournament.