Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Panel to explore how to temper rowdy celebrations

by on April 13, 2014 2:00 AM

Indiana Borough residents eventually will get a chance to give a new borough council committee their ideas for keeping a lid on celebrations of rowdy young people like last month’s “IUPatty’s Day.”

But Indiana Borough Police Chief William Sutton said not all the strategies developed by the committee — like operational plans for police officers during the celebrations — will be divulged.

Sutton on Friday released more details on the new committee announced this week by council President Nancy Jones. The “college-age activities” committee will review the disruptive activities at IUPatty’s Day and past Indiana University of Pennsylvania homecoming weekends, and consider a wide range of actions to prevent recurrences.

Members of the special committee will be Jones, Sutton, Mayor George Hood, the chairmen of council’s Public Safety and Community Development committees and Sgt. William Vojtek of the Indiana Borough Police Department.

Sutton said Friday other stakeholders will be invited to join the discussions and offer advice. Those people will likely include the Indiana County district attorney, the borough’s emergency management coordinator, representatives from IUP, the borough’s Code Enforcement Department and the Pennsylvania Municipal League.

The committee will meet weekly, at least initially, and report its findings and recommendations to the full council. The committee’s work is expected to take place over an unspecified period.

Sutton said the committee will try to identify contributing causes to the disruptions and rowdy behavior that occurred on IUPatty’s Day and establish measures to combat the problem. The objective of the committee’s deliberations, he added, will be to eliminate the threat posed to borough residents from the party atmosphere, excessive alcohol consumption and “mob mentality” that was prevalent during last month’s partying.

During the outdoor IUPatty’s Day celebrations March 7-9, large crowds of young people blocked public streets and there was significant fighting, vandalism and other public safety issues, Sutton said.

The event was not university-sanctioned.

While a general party atmosphere was apparent around the borough that weekend, the disturbances were concentrated in the borough’s Second Ward, especially along South Seventh Street and Wayne Avenue.

The Indiana police department experienced a 206 percent increase in the daily average calls for service during that three-day period and 107 arrests were made. Sutton said previously that many more people could have been taken into custody, but the focus for police officers was not to make as many arrests as possible but to maintain control and keep up a constant police presence.

Sutton said many borough residents have voiced annoyance and alarm from the activities they witnessed during IUPatty’s Day, and some have demanded that type of activity be eliminated.

Sutton said while the “riotous behavior” was controlled, the potential for large-scale rioting, more property damage, more physical injuries and the possible loss of human life will remain a considerable risk if the activities of IUPatty’s Day are allowed to continue.

“It’s a safety issue, a serious issue,” Sutton said, adding that council recognizes not only the potential for greater property damage and physical harm but the significant increase in service demands and associated costs to the borough.

“These adverse activities are not taken lightly and in an effort to protect the safety and welfare of the citizenry, borough officials are taking measures to further review the activities of the period and work toward the establishment of policies and procedures to better deal with future events of this caliber,” Sutton said. “Indiana Borough officials, on behalf of the citizenry, will not tolerate this type of activity taking place in its public ways and will work toward bringing a safer environment in Indiana Borough.”

The public eventually will be invited to offer comments to the committee, Sutton said.

“We’ll be talking with the media to provide some highlights” and to discuss general approaches and associated costs to the borough, he said, but added that some of the committee’s recommendations and decisions — for example, operational strategies for police during the disturbances by large groups of young people — will not be disclosed publicly.

Randy Wells has been a reporter and staff writer at The Indiana Gazette since 1988. His regular assignments include coverage of the Indiana County commissioners, Indiana Borough council and the Marion Center Area School District. His email address is
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