Unwelcome unrest: Police keep safety in mind while trying to control crowds during Welcome Weekend
Police keep safety in mind while trying to control crowds during Welcome Weekend
As Welcome Weekend marked the start of the year, CMU Police Lt. Larry Klaus and his team of officers faced enormous crowds of student partiers.
The night would bring several violations for alcohol and other offenses, but Klaus was certain officers would be out to protect.
Klaus has 25 years of experience as an officer in the Lansing Police Department. In his fourth year with CMU Police Department, Klaus returned to police work after his retirement.
He couldn’t face the monotony of retired life, he said, choosing the streets of Mount Pleasant over the grassy links on the golf course.
The previous night gave him plenty of excitement, although Saturday night is traditionally the more active day for police. Klaus said this is likely because CMU has such a notorious Welcome Weekend reputation.
College-age people from across the state are drawn to the festivities, as CMU is one of the first schools to get into session. On the whole, Klaus said these visiting party-goers use Mount Pleasant as their personal playground.
“Most students who get in trouble are just making bad decisions, they aren’t bad people,” Klaus said. “I try to have my officers understand the difference, 99 percent of the time it’s otherwise good people making stupid decisions.”
Central Michigan Life took part in a ride-along with Lt. Larry Klaus of the CMU Police Department from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Aug. 23-24.
9:15 p.m., East Campus Drive
Community policing is a relatively new concept Klaus said. He was on the ground-level when the idea was introduced to his department in Lansing. He said it is the main strategy of the CMUPD. Community policing, Klaus said, involves a more active role in the community as police are treated like public figures.
Despite the old adage “familiarity breeds contempt,” quite the opposite is true of the police’s relationship with students.
“Most students, by the time they are upperclassmen are pretty comfortable with police,” Klaus said. “We try not to be confrontational, and for the most part, they understand.”
Klaus begins the night by driving to the south end of campus to observe MAINstage, hoping to find more students attending the Dan and Shay concert than treading the booze-soaked streets.
He finds an enthusiastic Keith Voeks, assistant director of university events, who lauds the hard work of his events staff throughout the day. The two share pleasantries for several minutes before the conversation drifts toward the importance of these events in giving students an alternative to drinking.
9:40 p.m., Bellows Street
Patrolling the north end of campus, Klaus meets the eye of several staff members of the Office of Student Affairs, including Tom Idema, director of the Office of Student Conduct. Idema lamented the number of students that would be rolling into his office on Monday, fresh off earning alcohol violations in the residence halls.
Across the street, their pleasant conversation is contrasted by bombastic celebrations beginning to intensify as the night advances. Eager freshmen bounce down the streets, by now they have learned not to wear CMU lanyards around their necks, but are still instantly recognizable from wide-eyed looks on their faces as they stride across the precipice of the festivities.
A lifted truck with a University of Michigan flag zooms down Main Street. Klaus comments that such a flamboyant display is “asking for trouble.” Sure enough the driver is met with obscenities from proud CMU students.
10:17 p.m., CMUPD Dispatch
Klaus returns to the station, where dispatchers Brenda Curtis and Nick Donaldson surveil the campus grounds and answer 911 calls. The room is more akin to an air traffic control tower; each of the dispatchers sit behind computer screens and observe three screens of rotating security camera footage.
The footage shows masses of students leaving the residence halls and by the time Klaus is back down the streets, there is an unbroken line of bodies headed north.
As Klaus puts it, “the great migration has begun.”
10:41 p.m., Washington Street
Klaus waves to students on his way north to the action, receiving warm greetings and cheers from some as he hums up the street.
“A good officer interacts with his environment,” Klaus said, letting a group of young men cross the street ahead of him.
Most relations with the party-goers thus far had been agreeable, but a man shouts “(Expletive) the cops” as Klaus crosses Bellows Street.
“There’s not much that surprises me anymore,” Klaus said. “I’m in my 30th year in law enforcement, stuff like that just bounces right off you at this point.”
Immediately after, a radio message from the Mount Pleasant Police Department reports a man with a knife at Main Street Apartments.
11:12 p.m., Main Street
The suspect is quickly apprehended by several MPPD officers when Klaus arrives on-scene. Red and blue lights blanket the streets, as the young man tells his story on the side of the road.
Klaus said if convicted, he would be charged with felonious assault, malicious destruction of property and resisting arrest. This means four years of jail.
While the officers prepare the man for a ride downtown, another call on the radio comes in for a “push” maneuver. As the masses down south begin to congregate, the sidewalks become choked off and foot traffic becomes stagnant.
A “push” calls for officers relieving this congestion by forcing students not in the front lawns south. A horizontal line of MPPD officers walk in tandem; the presence of such authority is enough to motivate most students to leave.
Klaus heads to University Street to control traffic as they students flow back toward campus.
“I don’t get the draw of standing on a front lawn,” Klaus said, his gaze meeting the His House down the street. “At least there you get free hot dogs though.”
11:33 p.m., Bellows Street
By now, the hordes of students have begun to cycle back to Main Street on the north end. CMUPD Chief Bill Yeagley stops to remind Klaus that is isn’t even midnight yet; a push this early is surprising.
Klaus exits his vehicle, looking to get some respite from being cooped up in the patrol car. After just commenting he could use some fresh air, Klaus gets his wish.
A bottle thrown at a nearby MPPD officer springs the pair into action, in a flash they are in pursuit.
Klaus returns several minutes later, slightly winded. The suspect got away, but his description has been relayed to officers in the area.
“Throw things at police and go to jail for assault, simple as that,” Klaus said. “I guess I’m not as fast as I used to be.”
11:51 p.m., Washington Street
An underage man is being given a citation for being a minor in possession. He has no contraband on him; however his body is considered a container.
Meanwhile, ambulances echo near the Towers residence halls. Klaus heads to Kessler Hall to deal with another underage drinker who went too far; she requires medical assistance.
12:17 p.m. Main Street
Roaring chants of “Fire Up Chips” and the now obligatory “USA” signal the need for another push. The students do not move as easily this time, Klaus said as the night grows longer the alcohol in their systems reflects on their behavior.
Broken bottles crack like thunder and the MPPD officers become more forceful. Vandals destroying property is one of their biggest concerns on large weekends.
Two MPPD patrol vehicles move south down the street and keep vehicles from entering as the wave of students wash into the streets.
12:34 p.m., Main Street
By now, the streets are clear and Klaus directs traffic to return to a sense of normalcy. He fields questions from inquisitive students who want to know if the police are ending the festivities.
He assures them the push was done for the safety of students, and they thank him for the clarification.
“Most of the people I’ve encountered have been decent and respectful,” Klaus said. “It’s nice to see.
12:42 p.m., Washington Street
Klaus explains the cyclical nature of the streets on Welcome Weekend.
“It won’t be long before we’re back down there again clearing the roads,” he said. “We just want to keep people moving, when things get so condensed like that, it invites opportunities we’d rather not have to deal with.”