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.

Activities to do in Athens other than party at Fests

Weekends in Athens are comparable to other college towns, the students spend most of their free time going to parties. The spring in Athens is full of parties outside houses and are what everyone talks about as the better weather encourages students to party outside instead of in small houses. Are you a student, prospective student or parent and want to know what other than partying you can do at OU? Here is a list of a number of other activities that you can do other than partying and the reasoning why you should do these.

Hiking

The Ash cave at Hocking Hills. (Photo Credit: Always Shooting)

College is about learning to be efficient with your time and combining working out with being outside through hiking is a prime example. Athens is surrounded by parks and hiking trails that offer different experiences. All these parks have great views and are easy to hike around. Hocking Hills is the one most people go to but there are many others that are awesome to go to including Stroud’s Run State Park and Sells Park.

The Ridges

The Ridges (Photo Credit: http://www.forgottenoh.com/Ridges/ridges.html )

The most haunted place on campus is The Ridges where there are many types of activities to partake in. The main building there used to be the mental health hospital Southeastern Ohio and is on a hill just across the Hocking River from the main part of OU. It is usually really busy right around Halloween so the best time to go is in the spring. There is an old cemetery there that is nice to look around and the whole area is a great place to explore. You might find something new every time you go!!!

Kennedy Museum of Art

The inside of the Kennedy Museum of Art (Photo Credit: www.ohio.org)

The Kennedy Museum of Art is part of The Ridges but deserves its own point as it is very different than the rest of the area. From the outside, you would not know that a museum is inside the old hospital as the outside is nondescript. The museum is very modern and houses exhibitions from students in the area that vary depending on the time of the year. Going once to see the exhibits is not enough as they are constantly changing.

Biking

The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway is a great way to explore other areas without needing a car as it is a 21-mile long bike path between Athens and Nelsonville. You can also walk parts of the bike path if you want to. If you begin in Athens and go the full distance you end up in the Historic Square Arts District in Nelsonville that is a great place along with the whole town to check out.

The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway in the spring (Photo Credit: www.getoutzine.com

Organization Events

With so many university organizations there is always an event to go to that have such have such variety in what they are about. That means there is something for everyone to go to and most of these events are on weekends or when students are free as the leaders of the organizations are all students. One of the main events of the year is the International Week, which culminates in the International Street Fair put on by the International Student Union.

 

Shopping

Most students do not have much money to spare while at college but if they are not spending the little money they have on partying they can use it for other activities. That money can be used to go shopping at local clothing stores that have very interesting clothes and not that expensive. These stores are a perfect example of what Athens is and are a great place to meet like-minded people while looking through clothes.

Movies

The Athena Cinema at night. (Photo Credit: Katherine Egli)

There are a few movie theaters in Athens and they are a good place to go in the evenings or if you want to take your mind off whatever for a few hours. The Athena Cinema is the most known as it hosts many events and has movies and documentary shown for a couple of days. Sometimes the filmmaker comes also and has a talk about the movie.

Sports

Most sporting events cost money but being a student you get in for free. Well, you pay for it in your tuition and student fees but you aren’t losing any money out of your pocket when you go to the events. Baseball and softball are the two teams around in the spring that are often playing in Athens on the weekend. Saturdays are usually the days these teams play most of their games so you can be watching sports for most of the day instead of partying. Always good to support teams that bring glory to OU.

Chilling

The activity that costs no money at all is hanging out with friends and just relaxing on weekends. During the week, everyone is very busy with schoolwork so there is very little time to hang out. There are so many possibilities to do when with a group of friends that don’t include going out and partying. Some of those include playing board games and video games along with just sitting around talking to get to know everyone better. There are also activities that you can do by yourself like watching movies and sports on TV.

As you can see there are other activities to do other than partying and you are not the only one that does not party. The town and university are known for their big parties but some of the other activities are more fun and you can learn from them. Go out and explore all that Athens offers you!!!!