| Fourth Quarter 2012 | story by DAISY WAKEFIELD | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
Last March, Downtown Lawrence went a little crazy.
After the University of Kansas men’s basketball team advanced to the Final Four and, subsequently, to the National Championship game, throngs of fans stormed Massachusetts Street in celebration. The Lawrence Police Department seemingly came out of the woodwork and blended into the melee, controlling crowds and ensuring public safety. While the crowds may have appeared spontaneously, the police department’s actions were far from impromptu.
“We start planning for March Madness before basketball season even starts,” says Police Chief Tariq Khatib. “There’s been a celebration creep. Ten years ago, only the championship was a big deal. This year, a few thousand went downtown after KU’s win in the Elite Eight.”
For the March Madness celebrations, the cost of protecting people and property ran about $140k for the Police Department, and about $200k for the city. Ten outside police agencies donated their officers’ services to the city of Lawrence.
Over the years, the Police Department has developed a comprehensive plan to have the infrastructure in place for a big celebration, with such considerations as extra officers, outside agencies, food support, trash dumpsters, porta-potties, egress and access and satellite cameras.
The few weeks before March Madness with the plan in place, the department holds their breath and waits along with everyone else.
After the Jayhawks defeated Ohio State to advance to the championship game, about 60,000 fans charged downtown. For thousands of people mobbing a small area, Lawrencians behaved pretty well.
“I’m proud to say that we’ve got a pretty good track record, not a lot of collateral damage,” Khatib says. “Part of that I attribute to having a community that wants to celebrate and doesn’t have a history of keying up. Our police engagement strategy downtown is to celebrate with people and be positive, but making sure that everyone is safe.”
Along with these intermittent celebrations, the Lawrence Police Department also provides support for city activities such as parades, races, game day traffic direction and holiday events. Each year between 50 and 70 events call on the Police Department for help. Most events require about 2 months of planning, with a supervisor assigned to it, and a varying number of extra officers to man it.
Costs for each event are absorbed by the Police Department’s annual $14.5 million budget. Th e biggest challenge for the Police Department in manning these activities is providing the human resources. Any activity that requires extra man-hours is pulling from other routine activity or hours from another day of the week. Th e Police Department is becoming hard pressed to come up with the resources necessary to cover responsibilities. “Our appetite for cultural interactions, for being a destination for events, parades, runs, a hub of art, a melting pot of social interactions, has grown exponentially,” Khatib explains. “Th at’s a good thing. We want people coming here. Th at’s an advantage that Lawrence has over other places. But that comes with a need for the resources to make sure that these things go safely.”