Central Michigan Life took part in a ride-along with Lt. Larry Klaus of the CMU Police Department from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Aug. 24-25.
Peering through the windshield of his unmarked SUV and into the massive horde of students and the dark of night, Lt. Larry Klaus looked forward to an evening of protecting students, often from themselves.
Klaus has worked for the Central Michigan Police Department for the past three years and has patrolled campus and the outlying neighborhoods during each Welcome Weekend since.
Although the air was still calm by 10 p.m., Klaus knew the parties would soon pick up and his night would begin.
“It’s not that we want to be hardcore with the students,” he said. “We want to set the tone. We have a certain expectation of behavior. There’s not a lot of tolerance for disorderly behavior. Just don’t get stuck on stupid.”
What has been a problem for Klaus are the vandals kicking-in car mirrors and throwing bottles, along with the most common citation: minors in possession of alcohol.
“(CMU) is like a small town. It keeps us busy, but it’s not overwhelming,” Klaus said. “Students seem pretty well-behaved on campus. Ninety-nine percent want to be successful, and we want to help facilitate that.”
10:45 p.m., Main Street
Klaus met with a jovial group of five officers patrolling Main Street on foot, four of whom were from the Mount Pleasant Police Department. The early calm of the night was suddenly broken as the officers descended upon two men carrying open bottles of Bud Light and issued them the necessary citations.
“It’s been calm so far,” CMU Police Detective Mike Sienkiewicz said. “We’re walking around looking for disturbances or situations that can become unsafe. We see alcohol a lot. Open intoxicants and MIPs are what we see the most.”
Klaus estimated fines for open intoxicants to be $100 or more. An MIP is a misdemeanor which can result in more fines and probation.
“A few people get the bright idea to run, and then they end up in jail with a felony,” Sienkiewicz said. “Most people know the rules. People trying to hide things from us is one of the signs they’re doing something they shouldn’t.”
10:56 p.m., Isabella County
On his way back into the county, Klaus pulled over a red van with its headlights off and a U.S. Marines bumper sticker on the back windshield. Four or five passengers were in tow, but since they didn’t seem drunk, he let them off with a warning.
“They weren’t drinking; that’s the main thing,” Klaus said. “The hardest part of my job is that students are so nice, it’s hard to write anybody tickets.”
11:30 p.m., Main Street
Back on Main Street, activity had begun to pick up. Hundreds of students packed the lawns and porches outside the houses and apartments that lined the road. As they started to overflow into the street, Klaus and his fellow officers began to consider executing a “push.”
A “push” is only executed when crowds have become too large to stay safe. After shutting down traffic to the target street, 15-20 officers systematically clear lawns and sidewalks to prevent parties from stretching into the road.
“The goal is to not let it encroach into the traffic,” Klaus said. “Sidewalks get past capacity and start blocking the roads. Pedestrians can’t compete with cars. That’s a bad mix.”
12:06 a.m., Main Street
Still near the 1000 block of Main Street, Klaus joined several other officers, along with five other squad cars, in response to a call of disorderly conduct. The man, who Klaus said attempted to fight an officer when questioned, was taken away in handcuffs.
Klaus guessed the individual was from out of town.
“There are more cars here, so my guess is more people from out of town,” he said. “You get guys from all ages up here, from out of town.”
According to Klaus, the densely-packed student housing on Main Street – although a smaller area than at bigger schools such as the University of Michigan – poses greater challenges for law enforcement than if the parties were spread out.
“It’s much more concentrated here,” he said. “It makes it a little harder. If it was spread out more, it would be easier to manage.”
12:48 a.m., Saxe Hall
Still waiting for an order, Klaus was approached by a woman trying to find her way back to Saxe Hall. A freshman, she was new on campus and said she felt a bit overwhelmed by the boiling social atmosphere.
Klaus drove her back to her residence hall before heading back to Main Street to continue his patrols and wait for the call for a push, if crowds got too big.
Speaking with a man collecting cans around the house parties, Klaus predicted things to die down by 3 a.m., if not sooner.
Despite only getting around five hours of sleep for the past few nights, the 25-year veteran of the Lansing Police Department – and father of a CMU student – continued to stand guard and ensure CMU students were safe, amid the chaos of youth.
“We just want to make sure no one gets hurt,” he said. “We’re pretty protective of our students. We don’t want people coming to our university and preying on our students. We take it very personally.”