Indiana Borough council president and Fisher Avenue resident Nancy Jones said Indiana University of Pennsylvania Homecoming celebrations increasingly are leaving borough residents with feelings of fear and frustration.
“But it’s more a fear because we’re outnumbered,” Jones said, adding that she and some other residents choose to stay inside the security of their homes rather than venture out on homecoming among crowds of students and young out-of-towners drawn to the borough for the weekend party atmosphere.
Jones on Wednesday elaborated on comments she made at Tuesday’s Indiana council meeting and gave additional details on her two nights of riding along with Indiana police officers as they responded to disturbances and tried to get through masses of celebrating students that at times clogged streets.
Jones said she’s been riding as an observer with borough officers during homecoming weekends for six years, but this past weekend was different.
“The first thing we noticed was the crowds,” she said.
“Just masses of kids. That’s the biggest thing we all noticed. The point (at South Seventh Street and Wayne Avenue) was unbelievable.”
Jones said there were constant reports of fights and shoplifting incidents in that area at the Giant Eagle Express and Sheetz stores. On Friday night officers responded to the point for a report of a young man carrying a gun. Jones said police learned the man had a permit to carry a firearm, but he was intoxicated.
Jones said ambulance crews were kept busy both nights getting to and treating intoxicated young people, some of whom were injured in falls.
The 500 and 600 blocks of Philadelphia Street, too, were especially congested. The lines of students waiting to get into downtown bars extended out onto Philadelphia Street, she said, and at times multiple officers, including state troopers on horseback, were needed to keep students pushed back on the sidewalks and off the traffic lanes.
The situation was aggravated Saturday night, Jones said, when Club Tequila, in the basement of Cosumel, was closed for exceeding the club’s occupancy limit. Jones said an estimated 1,000 people were in the club and when they spilled outside they worsened the traffic constrictions.
“Trying to get a (police) car there to respond to a call” was a challenge, Jones said.
About 1 a.m. Sunday, Jones and Councilman Kevin Kravetsky, riding with another borough police officer, were among the first to arrive at a house fire along Maple Street. Jones and Kravetsky and the officers found a ladder at a neighbor’s house and helped residents off the porch roof of their burning home while volunteer firefighters were gingerly driving their firetrucks through crowds.
“It really slowed us down,” fire Chief Charles Kelly said of the pedestrian congestion on the streets. “South Seventh was just terrible. Kids were way out on the road.”
Kelly experienced 32 IUP Homecoming celebrations as a borough police officer and many more while serving as fire chief. The crowds of students on downtown streets last weekend were “unbelievable,” he said.
“There’s no dispersing” that many people, Jones said. “This town can’t absorb the number of kids coming to this event.”
People arrested for intoxication were taken to a temporary holding area in a garage bay between the borough administration offices and the Indiana Fire Association station. Intoxicated people were given the opportunity to telephone a sober adult who could come and take custody of them. But Jones said some of the young people who came to the police station to collect a friend were drunk as well.
Those arrested were taken in small groups to the Indiana County Jail. Louis Sacco, chief of the Homer City Police Department, was assisting Indiana officers and was injured in a scuffle with an unruly intoxicated man as the man was transported to the jail, Jones said.
During the ride-along with police, Jones also responded to several off-campus rental houses where noisy parties were in progress.
At one, along Fisher Avenue, she saw students kick out second-story window screens and jump to the ground when police arrived at the front door.
“When you pull up with the lights on, the kids scatter,” Jones said. At one house she saw retreating students trample a neighbor’s garden and knock down a rose trellis.
And the disturbances didn’t happen just at night. Jones said that at her own home in the 400 block of Fisher Avenue, girls urinated on her lawn at 1 p.m. Saturday, and a young male came into her yard, vomited, and then walked back to a party across the street.
“The kids make bad decisions; they have a moment of stupidity” and end up being arrested or cited, Jones said.
For some students, an arrest record can have a drastic impact on their academic and career plans. Jones said she has heard students ask an arresting officer, “Do you know what you’re doing to me?”
“No, they did this to themselves,” Jones said.
Jones has heard from other borough residents who had similar experiences over homecoming. Residents confide in her, she said, because “they know I’m living the nightmare.”
“Every year our costs for this escalate and escalate — thousands of dollars we’re out for police overtime,” Jones said. “The residents are held prisoners in their homes. We just wait for it to be over,” and then taxpayers have to pay for it.
“This has got to stop,” Jones said, adding that’s why she’s running for re-election to council. “I don’t want to let students take over the borough.”
As an initial step, Jones said she’ll ask council to look at getting landlords more involved to control and restrict the large disruptive parties at off-campus houses. Maybe landlords will have to hire their own security guards to protect their rental properties and take that part of the homecoming burden off the borough police, she said.