As spring approaches, Kent State University students living in neighborhoods near the campus on College Avenue and Lincoln and Sherman streets begin planning for the large block parties that have become traditions on those streets.
Officials at the Kent Police Department and Kent State University are way ahead of them.
Kent Police Chief Michelle Lee said her department has been discussing strategies on how to control the parties, along with Kent's annual unsanctioned Halloween party, with KSU and neighboring law enforcement agencies since the events wrapped us last year.
"(The parties) are turning more violent," Lee said. "They're turning a little more turbulent. They're starting early. Those cases are really starting to bother me."
College Fest, the event that brings thousands to the yards on East College Avenue each year for a day of drinking and revelry in late April or early May, has received national media attention in years past because of the rowdy and sometimes violent behavior of attendees.
Kent police broke up College Fest in 2012 at 7 p.m. with flash-bang grenades, pepper gas and smoke bombs after multiple large fights and assaults resulted in hospitalization of victims. In 2011, police dispersed the crowd after several bottles were thrown at officers at about 11:30 p.m., while police arrested 50 students at College Fest in 2009 after students threw items at police and started multiple fires.
"We're getting to a tipping point where we may not be able to handle it by ourselves -- and by ourselves, I mean us and our mutual aid agencies," Lee said.
Typically, the Portage County Sheriff's Office, the Metro SWAT team and several local police agencies provide support to a fully staffed Kent Police Department during College Fest and Halloween.
Lee said the department has considered calling in the Ohio Highway Patrol's Strategic Response Team, which specializes in crowd and riot control and other high-risk law enforcement activities.
She said one potential drawback would be that the Kent Police Department likely would have to cede its position as the lead agency in the operation to the Ohio Highway Patrol, whose officers would be less familiar with the history and geography associated with the events.
Shay Little, KSU's associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said university representatives have sent letters to students living in the neighborhoods near campus and conducted follow-up canvassing to remind them respect private property and be good neighbors during these events. She said university officials also contact student government leaders in the hopes they will positively influence their peers leading up to the parties.
"We think that has some impact," Little said. "I think the other important thing to remember is a lot of these events and activities are attended by people who don't live in our county or our city, and that's one of our biggest challenges."
Little said non-students and non-residents often make "the worst decisions" during the parties because "they don't care about our community."
City and university officials in State College, Pa., home of Penn State University, have faced similar problems as the popular "State Patty's Day" celebration, held on the final Saturday of February, has grown in size in recent years. For the first time this year, the city and the university paid $5,000 to each of the city's bars to not sell alcohol on that day.
Local media reports show that crime reports during the event slowed this year, but did not disappear by any means. Little said to her knowledge the KSU and Kent administrations have not asked local merchants to not sell alcohol during the block parties.
Lee said her department will be out early at this year's College Fest, which has no set date at this point, in the hopes that a strong police presence will deter illegal activity.
"We're going to be out earlier than normal than in past years," Lee said. "It's going to be a zero-tolerance policy as far as infractions."
While College Fest and the Kent's other neighborhood-based block parties present a potentially dangerous situations for revelers and police, Lee said the growth of the annual Halloween festivities, when thousands of costumed individuals flood the city's downtown and neighborhoods, may prove even more problematic for her department in the future.
"Halloween is especially problematic because it's sprawling," she said. "For years ... it was more localized to the downtown. Now it's sprawled out to the east, to the north and it's attracting individuals from Cleveland, Youngstown (and) Akron."
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