Larry Klaus was ready for the big game.
As he gazed across the parking lots outside Central Michigan University’s athletic complex, the CMU police lieutenant was prepared to lead his team through enormous crowds at the university’s biggest event of the year.
Saturday’s homecoming football game drew thousands of people to Kelly/Shorts Stadium, and police were tasked with keeping attendees safe amid the mass of tailgating parties.
While the festivities remained relatively ordered, that serenity required deep cooperation from 22 officers of Mount Pleasant’s five local police departments.
Initially patrolling the lots to the south of the stadium, Klaus said the area usually holds up to 6,000 people. He said the most common citations were minors in possession of alcohol.
Before heading into the crowds, Klaus surveyed the scene to identify certain areas dense with activity.
“When we get hot spots where people might start throwing projectiles, we move in,” he said. “Bottles are not permitted, but it’s impossible to police. You’d just be chasing bottles all day.”
According to Klaus, CMUPD averages six to 12 MIP citations per game. He explained that while officers do not actively demand patron identification, they often must act on obvious violations.
“If you look like you’re 12 and are drinking a beer, we’ll check you,” Klaus said. “We’re not actively looking for it. We want everybody to just have a good time.”
Moving into the tailgating area of Kelly/Shorts’ southern parking lots, Klaus compared CMU’s atmosphere as more concentrated than at larger universities.
CMU recently got rid of the roped-off area designating the tailgating spots. Klaus said behavior has improved since the area was opened up.
“It’s different here,” he said. “You get bigger groups in smaller areas. It’s more spread out at MSU. The behavior has been a little better, since there’s been more intermingling with the families.”
As he approached the tailgaters, Klaus was greeted by a woman who thanked him for his work. Making his way to the grass parkways at the back of the lot, Klaus peered down the aisles of RV’s watching out for any disorderly behavior.
“A lot of alums bring their big rigs to tailgate,” he said.
In his third year supervising the homecoming parties, Klaus was wary about attendees going too far and becoming dangerously intoxicated.
“We’ll deal occasionally with someone who’s over-consumed,” Klaus said. “Sometimes we have to get a medical transport. We look out for fighting, people throwing projectiles and MIPs.”
After his first pass through the student parties, Klaus headed up to CMUPD’s incident command center near the stadium’s press box on the west side of the stadium.
Greeted by CMU Police Chief Bill Yeagley and Ferris State’s Director of Public Safety Bruce Borkovich, Klaus was able to observe the field through the large windows on the top floor of the athletic complex.
“The time and the organization an event like this takes is tremendous,” Borkovich said. “Most people don’t know how much work goes into this. The whole university really has to come together. Everything is surprisingly safe and orderly for the amount of people.”
Yeagley reported just one MIP, medical incident and drug charge since the festivities began.
Inside CMUPD’s surveillance room on the top floor of the complex was Captain Fred Harris and two 32-inch plasma screen TVs, recording from more than 20 cameras around the stadium.
Officers can also view the field through a large glass window above their screens.
“We’ve got a very good vantage point up here,” Harris said. One thing we don’t watch is the game. We can get things reported pretty quickly up here.”
Harris said his four medical teams, comprising paramedics and law enforcement officers, respond mostly to patrons who are “over-intoxicated” or acting disorderly.
He said most officers are assigned to the student-populated southern lots, and that most cases there are drinking-related.
After several officers convened on a back parkway with Klaus, they prepared to begin their “push.” Officers walked through the parking aisles, asking attendees to pour out their drinks and either leave or enter the stadium.
Cutting the music from large speakers, officers waited to see if partiers got the message.
“The whole idea is it takes down the activity,” Klaus said about turning off the music. “We get the music down and make assignments from there.”
Officers locate an unconscious woman underneath a truck. They quickly call an ambulance and lift her to safety. To get the victim out of the crowds, officers were tasked with negotiating the surges of people.
“We’re going to part the waters and get that person out,” Klaus said. “That girl needs a medical response. She’s down in between two trucks. This push is going to be a long one.”
As kickoff was imminent, officers began sternly shutting down the parties after the girl was safely en route to the hospital. Estimating crowd control would continue outside until halftime, officers set to work pouring out beers and urging attendees toward the field.
The crowd was slow to respond.
Approaching some seasoned partiers intent on finishing their last drinks despite police orders, Klaus was intent on re-directing foot traffic to the north.
“You get more crap from the old folks than you do the young ones,” he said.
CMU police moved into the stadium to police the crowds packing the bleachers to witness the game. Klaus and a small team of officers stayed in the lots to make sure the job was done.
“It can look overwhelming,” he said. “It takes a minute to get rolling. We moved more people today than usual. This went pretty well – people mostly moved when we told them. We’re here to keep the peace. We try to convince people to go in and watch.”