Arrests don't tell full story of IUPatty's Day, police chief says
March 15, 2014 10:59 AM
by RANDY WELLS

Indiana Borough Police Chief William Sutton said he has been under some pressure to release arrest statistics from last weekend’s IUPatty’s Day celebrations attended by thousands of Indiana University of Pennsylvania students and other young people. And while Sutton provided some preliminary figures Friday, he downplayed the significance of arrests during such events.

“The arrests don’t paint a picture of what was going on,” Sutton said. “The problem is people don’t understand the true potential of this,” the danger of the “mob mentality … topped off with alcohol” suddenly boiling over into something much more serious.

“Our mission, our objective, isn’t to arrest people. It’s to contain the situation,” Sutton said, adding that every arrest takes an officer off the street for one-half hour to two hours.

“It’s time-consuming to make an arrest. … Trying to get the environment back to normalcy” was the officers’ priority, he said.

Sutton said many people have watched the amateur video shot last Saturday and shared via social media of a rowdy young man climbing on top of a car surrounded by a crowd of revelers. How much more, Sutton asked — or how little more — would it have taken for others in the crowd to follow that young man’s lead and start climbing on top of other cars, and then start overturning cars?

“Things can get out of control very fast,” Sutton said.

To emphasize his point, Sutton recalled the fatal stabbing during the 2005 IUP Homecoming celebration. There were numerous calls to the police department about fights that weekend, but most were only incidents of disorderly conduct and everyone had dispersed by the time officers arrived on the scene.

“That (stabbing) homicide was a disorderly conduct gone bad,” Sutton said. It was a shoving match between two men that in a few seconds became an assault and then a murder. On a normal night in Indiana it would have been a pushing match that ended before police got there, he said.

One of the police department’s strategies last weekend was to position officers and create a police presence at locations where crowds were expected but before revelers started gathering there. That tactic has proven effective in the past, Sutton said.

But in his estimation, this spring’s IUPatty’s Day celebration was “worse” for law enforcement agencies than last year’s for several reasons.

First, Sutton said, this year’s event was more orchestrated and more publicized by students, and students in a sense had legitimized the gathering by giving it the label of IUPatty’s Day.

Also, it was also more targeted, primarily along South Seventh Street and Wayne Avenue.

“That concentration (of people) made it worse and more difficult to respond to,” Sutton said, adding that if the same number of revelers had been spread out across the borough, the event would have been easier to deal with.

And, Sutton said, the disturbances by the large roving crowds started earlier in the day Saturday than police expected, and the weather cooperated with relatively mild temperatures until a cold mix of rain and sleet chased most of the parties indoors after dark.

The IUPatty’s Day celebration was not sanctioned by the university. IUP administrators and some student organizations planned a laser tag tournament, a trivia contest, a performance by a Celtic band and Zumba classes as “Spring Fever 2014” alternative events for students.

Sutton on Friday highlighted some of the preliminary statistics he will present formally next week to council’s Public Safety Committee.

From 3 p.m. Thursday to 3 p.m. Sunday of last weekend, the Indiana Borough Police Department received 236 calls for service, a 200 percent increase over the average number of daily calls for service, Sutton said.

During that three-day period, Indiana officers issued 96 citations (primarily for public drunkenness, underage drinking, disorderly conduct, violation of the open container ordinance, public urination and similar offenses) and 11 more serious criminal complaints involving 42 other crimes. In all, 107 people were arrested on 138 charges.

One DUI, several drug investigations and a reported rape are not included in the statistics because laboratory results are pending or because no one has been charged, Sutton said.

And those numbers represent only the actions of Indiana Borough officers and do not include arrests made by IUP campus police, state troopers and assisting officers from Punxsutawney and Homer City.

The overtime pay for Indiana police officers last weekend will cost the borough $4,199, Sutton said.

The IUP public relations office frequently emphasizes that many people arrested at celebrations such as homecoming and St. Patrick’s Day are not IUP students but out-of-towners drawn to Indiana for the party atmosphere, and Sutton’s statistics bear that out. Of the 96 citations Indiana officers issued last weekend, 50 were for IUP students and 46 were for non-IUP students. And of the 42 more serious charges in the criminal complaints, 21 were against IUP students and 21 were against non-IUP students.

“To the police department, it really doesn’t matter who they are. … It’s still criminal activity,” Sutton said.

The police chief said one question he anticipated but was not asked this week was, “How many people could have been arrested last weekend?”

“Every person who had an open container, everybody who stood in the street” and blocked traffic could have been arrested — if the Indiana PD had a couple hundred cops at its disposal — Sutton said.

The arrests that were made last weekend were to contain the situation and to achieve the officers’ “biggest consideration — that no one got hurt,” Sutton said.

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