If thousands flood downtown Lawrence again Monday night to celebrate a national championship, Lawrence police say law enforcement’s response will be similar to Saturday night.
However, this time there will be more officers downtown, said Sgt. Trent McKinley, a Lawrence police spokesman, because police are preparing for a larger crowd than the one that stormed Massachusetts Street and lingered for hours Saturday, savoring KU’s thrilling Final Four victory over Ohio State.
McKinley said increasing officers for a championship game has been part of the department’s plan for several years, and it was used in 2008.
Police have given mostly positive reviews to the crowd that came downtown Saturday night. McKinley said there were no significant injuries or incidents and that property damage was kept to a minimum.
“A lot of it had to do with early intervention,” he said. “Officers were able to step in and shut things down before they got out of hand.”
Lawrence Memorial Hospital's emergency room treated 37 patients who had injuries that were related to the game. Among the causes: falls, lacerations and intoxication. There were no admissions; everyone was treated and released.
It was a very different atmosphere Saturday in Kentucky.
The Associated Press reported that “a very dangerous situation” arose on the streets of Lexington, Ky., after the University of Kentucky’s victory over the University of Louisville. According to the story, people flipped over a car, set couches on fire and threw beer bottles at police officers.
McKinley said police in Lawrence try to strike a balance between being friendly and firm. Several officers were seen Saturday night downtown giving high-fives to KU fans and getting their photos taken with revelers. He said that strategy seems to pay off if police need to respond to someone who might be doing something dangerous or criminal because generally the larger crowd is on an officer’s side.
“We want people to have an environment in which they can celebrate in,” he said, “but we don’t want anybody to be hurt and we don’t want property to be damaged.”
McKinley said it’s difficult to estimate how large the celebratory crowds have been downtown because people often fill several blocks of Massachusetts Street. Police plan for about 50,000 people.
Kansas University’s NCAA championship game against Kentucky begins a 8:23 p.m. on CBS stations.
Assistant KU police chief Chris Keary said there were no major incidents on campus during or after the game. Officers will be on hand at 7 p.m. when KU opens the doors to Allen Fieldhouse, where thousands of fans are expected to watch the game.
Between 250 to 300 officers from several agencies will be downtown, McKinley said. The city does not pay for the help of the extra officers, who are assisting as part of a mutual aid agreement.
McKinley said police reported three arrests during Saturday night’s celebration near downtown for disturbances or disorderly conduct. A 24-year-old Atchison woman was arrested about 12:45 a.m. Sunday in the 1000 block of Massachusetts Street after she was trying to leave the downtown area in her vehicle through a crowd of people. District Attorney Charles Branson said the woman is charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery, but no one was injured.
The Journal-World received reports of two cars that were damaged, likely due to people standing on top of the windshield and roof. Police are advising people not to park their vehicles downtown or in the area.
McKinley said if KU wins, police again would close Massachusetts Street between Sixth and 13th streets. Police also urged people to follow these safety tips if there’s a downtown celebration Monday night:
• Stay in groups and notify family members of your plans. Cellphone service was spotty Saturday night because thousands of people were downtown, so McKinley said that made it even more important for people to stay in groups with friends.
• Do not get into vehicles with people you do not know.
• Cans and bottles will not be allowed downtown.
• Stay off rooftops. McKinley said although people could be seen on roofs downtown, officers were discouraging people from doing so or property owners from letting people access roofs. Police did remove people who climbed onto trees and canopies, and most people were cooperative.
“We don’t want people falling and getting hurt. We don’t want them having contact with utility lines,” he said.
• Do not take dogs downtown into crowds because it could pose a safety risk, and use caution if you have small children with you.
• Celebrate responsibly and be aware of your surroundings.