How Athens Police Department keeps its Bobcats under control during fest season

Springtime in Athens has rolled around again. With it comes beautiful weather, graduation, and of course fest season.

Fest weekends tend to be much more disorderly than the average weekend in Athens. As a result, the city always sees a necessary increase in police presence. With such an increase in population and risky behavior, what steps do the authorities take to keep these young adults safe?

The number of officers patrolling increases dramatically during the spring fests. Officers play a variety of distinct roles during this time of year. There are authorities patrolling on foot, horses, and some in plain clothes as undercovers.

Athens Police Department’s Mounted Patrol are the most iconic role that police employ during fest season. They never fail to get attention from students.

Mounted police begin their journey at the Athens Fairgrounds and ride their way into town toward the fest attendees. They typically travel in packs of 3 to 12 officers.

“We use the horses because it gives our police force more of a presence. We think that the presence of the horses and the view we get from being up high helps us to defuse and control situations before they can get out of hand,” said Ohio University Police Officer Bryan Newvahner. Mounted patrol officers seem to get the attention and respect of fest-goers much more effectively than officers in patrol cars, riding bikes, or on foot.

The Athens Police Department does allow for students to pet the horses, they just request that the students ask for permission before touching the animals.

A group of officers that I spoke with were all in agreement that an officer on horseback is much more effective at stopping and preventing reckless behavior in addition to maintaining order opposed to officers on foot. Mounted officers in Athens have been used since 1996 and do not seem to be going away anytime soon. They have become a staple in the spring fest image and culture.

Police reinforcements come from around the state from locations including; Columbus, Medina, Dublin, and Summit to name a few. They come from all over Ohio to support the Athens Police Department during its busy fest season. The Athens Police Department shares a mutual aid agreement where each department assists the other during busy weekends. “We need reinforcements to accommodate for the huge jump in population and risky behavior,” said Newvahner.

“We typically make around 25 to 30 arrests on any given busy fest,” said Newvahner. “We want to let students have fun but prevent them from hurting themselves or anyone else around them.” The majority of the arrests that law enforcement make are for public urination, underage drinking, or public intoxication.

Some of the fest attendees were under the impression that the police specifically targeted their party while allowing others to continue. This left me wondering, why do officers shut down certain parties and not others?

The Athens Police Department clearly wants to prevent and stop the reckless and risky behavior that comes with fest season, but why do they choose to shut down one party and allow the others to continue? To an outsider, each party just appears to have loud music and many drunk college students.

The main criteria that officers take into consideration when shutting down house parties during fests is behavior. “More often than not when we shut down a certain address it is because they have had several repeated offenses over a period of time at the same location,” said Newvahner. The repeated offenses usually happen later in the day, after students have already been drinking for an extended period of time.

Police did not always shut down street fests as early as they do now. When Ohio University was on the quarter system only a few years ago, fests would go much later into the evening.

Police began shutting down parties much earlier on the semester system because the conflict between fest-goers and law enforcement was so high. Athens Police Department found that when they prevented the fests from going so late, the encounters they had with students decreased dramatically.

As is to be expected, some students are less than enthusiastic about their parties getting shut down by the police. One tenant of a Mill Street rental property, Stephanie Anthony said, “there were parties a lot louder and crazier than ours. I don’t know why they shut us down, it’s our property.”

Each student that I spoke with seemed to have a different opinion on the police presence during the fests. Some were appreciative of the presence that they had and thought that it made them feel safer in a hectic environment.

I spoke to Mark Taylor, a sophomore studying management information systems to get his take. “I feel safer knowing that there are police all around me when so many people are drinking. They pretty much let us do what we want and only get involved if it gets too crazy, plus I love petting all the horses.”

There are also students who find that the police are too intrusive on their festing. “The number of cops just seems unnecessary, we have gotten more and more every year for the last four years and they shut down the streets earlier and earlier every year too,” said Brett Webb, a senior studying geology.

Officer Newvahner said that there are a few steps students can take to stay safe and avoid conflict with law enforcement during fest weekends. “Drinking on the sidewalk is and always has been illegal, so do not do it,” said Newvahner and a few of his colleagues.

The officers also said that respect is very important when it comes to dealing with the police. They are there to maintain order and keep students safe, they are not out to get anyone or prevent students from having a good time.

He also said, “if it is your house, try to keep it under control.” Recurring violations, such as noise, public urination, littering, and intoxication can lead to a citation and the authorities asking students to leave if they do not live there.

After interviewing representatives from both sides, students and law enforcement, there seems to be a good balance of control and freedom for the students to have fun without harming themselves or others around them.

Students and law enforcement look to have another successful fest season in spring of 2018.