Lexington, UK officials say to celebrate wisely, classes won’t be canceled if UK wins

A Lexington firefighter moves a celebrating University of Kentucky fan out of the way on University Avenue as the firefighters worked at extinguishing a burning chair in Lexington, Ky., on Sunday, March 25, 2012, after Kentucky beat Baylor in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight. Photo by Tessa Lighty | Staff

 

By Drew Teague

President Eli Capilouto said Wednesday that should UK win the national championship, classes will still be held on Tuesday.

Capilouto, along with city officials, discussed Lexington’s plan for dealing with UK’s Final Four celebrations at a news conference.

The main theme from all the officials was on keeping the celebrations safe so no one is injured. Officials also discussed the use of social media and cameras to figure out who started fires.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said a lot of history is happening this weekend, but citizens need to make sure the city survives through it.

“This is the time to have a good time, but we also know we want to come through Saturday,” he said, “with our neighborhoods and our citizens fully intact as well.”

Gray wants all people to remember the golden rule during times of celebration this weekend.

Capilouto echoed Gray’s safety concern for the students who would be celebrating, reminding them that the nation will have their eye on the city.

“The University of Kentucky and Lexington share much; we share a very positive brand. Now the nation, and certainly the world, is watching,” Capilouto said. “Through our conduct, which is going to reflect positively on our community, I know that we’re going to give other reasons to have something good to talk about.”

Capilouto said students who choose not to act responsibly will be dealt with swiftly through proper procedures.

“I ask our students especially, through our conduct, we respect this community of Lexington, we honor a 150 year tradition,” Capilouto said. “So how we conduct our self this week has implications for our future, so I ask you to honor all the great work of our student athletes.”

Related link: Final Four Safety Message from UK President Eli Capilouto.

Related link: Class won’t be canceled for basketball games, celebrations.

Keith Jackson, interim chief of the Division of Fire, wants people to refrain from setting fires this year and for students and citizens to make sure they get out of the way when an emergency vehicle comes down the street.

The division will be using cameras and social media to help them figure out who has started fires, but couldn’t comment on locations of the cameras, Jackson said.

“In the past a lot of guys have lost jobs, have lost their freedom because they were caught on camera,” Jackson said. “We’ll have to determine (if a case is sent to the Dean of Students), based upon the situation. Me and Joe (Monroe) will make a decision on if we want to send it to the university. Our goal is not to ruin some child.”

UK Police Chief Joe Monroe also said students who are acting improperly during celebrations will be dealt with accordingly, whether it be with police or the Dean of Students office.

“We are going to be out in full force this weekend,” Monroe said. “We’re not going to stand for any type of criminal mischief, arson, assaults or acts of vandalism. In addition to any violations that poses a violation of the student code of conduct, they will be handled through the Dean of Students office.”

Monroe does not want any of the national attention the city gets to overshadow a possible national championship.

Related link: Officials release post-game safety tips.

Lexington Police Chief Ronnie Bastin said his forces will be out in the normal areas of congregation for fans, but they will be able to respond to other areas that become a concern.

Bastin declined to release the number of officers that will be present in certain areas.

Kelli Edwards, NCAA police incident commander with Lexington police, said the department’s job will be the same, just with heightened presence by officers.

“Our mission, for the next few days, as usual, is the safety of individuals and the protection of property, both public and private, both on and off campus,” Edwards said. “I think we’ve all seen over the past weekend what some of those behaviors are (for celebrations).”

Edwards said that bars in the North Campus area have been very cooperative and are glad the police have an interest in their businesses.

The police will also be using the mounted force that the city has, and that waste management will play a vital role in this weekend’s celebrations, said Sherelle Roberts, spokeswoman for Lexington police.

Traffic plans were also made for the weekend due to extra vehicle and pedestrian traffic on North Campus and downtown.

Traffic patrol will be in place on Euclid Avenue and Limestone Street on Saturday, Mike Blanton, commander with Lexington police, said.

He said parking will be restricted in the 300 block of Limestone, Euclid Avenue and Woodland Avenue on metered parking spaces. At around 5 p.m. on Saturday and Monday, spots will be blocked and vehicles will be removed, he said.

UK Student Government President Micah Fielden brought up the issue of students and couch burning, saying students should not be a part of the activity.

“To the student I’d want to say this: we must be responsible and we must maintain a safe environment while we are celebrating,” Fielden said. “I’m not sure if I should say this, but I feel like burning couches is like rushing the court at Rupp Arena — we shouldn’t be doing it.”

Anthany Beatty, UK vice president assistant of public safety, has been through six Final Fours during his time in Lexington in various roles from Lexington police officer to Lexington police chief to a vice president at UK.

Beatty said police were unprepared for celebrations during the 1996 championship run, with 25 officers stationed at the intersection of Woodland and Euclid, where around 7,000 people arrived in about 10 minutes.

“We felt like we could handle that,” Beatty said. “Woodland and Euclid became a problem because so many people so rapidly got there that we suffered vandalism, people were injured, damaged vehicles, damaged property.

“That experience in ’96 gave us the impetus to better train, equip the officers, more strategic planning not only with Lexington police, but with university police.”

Beatty said the biggest change among the 1996 championship, the run in 1997 and another championship in 1998 was the training of police.

“The biggest changes were training police personnel about what they were going to see, how to react (and) what the expectations were,” Beatty said. “From a police perspective, police are trained to deal with criminal matters and bad folks who are doing something criminal. This is simply a celebration that people get injured in and it gets out of hand. So you condition them to the mindset.”

Beatty said the new ABC36 news van was flipped over and was set on fire, though he doesn’t think the fire was set purposely. He also doesn’t know where the tradition of couch burning began, but said there were dumpster fires back in 1996.

The Lexington Police Mounted Patrol was important during the celebrations in 1997 and 1998, Beatty said.

“It’s difficult to move officers … into (crowded) areas when someone is hurt, but with the training and the skill set we have with the horses, mounted patrol gives us the ability to move in,” Beatty said. “The horses command a level of respect that a person can’t because of their size and the vantage point they give officers.”

The injuries from the 1996 celebrations were more than the subsequent two years, said Beatty, with various types of injuries, from fist fights to glass to falling from buildings and poles.

“There were a few fist fights. The big concern was that there were several situations where bottles and cans were thrown and someone would get struck somewhere else and we could never tell where that occurred from,” Beatty said. “We had a few people fall from climbing on buildings, fences, signs and those kinds of things.”

Beatty reminds students, like all the others city and university officials said, to be smart and have fun while being safe.

“The main thing is, again, it is a celebration. Everyone knows and expects that regardless of the outcome of the game,” Beatty said. “Think about other people; respect other people and other people’s property.”