Hawkeye football to thousands of Iowa faithful can mean more than 60 minutes of gridiron action. It can mean road trips to Iowa City, hours of tailgating, beer for breakfast, and — more pertinent for some folks than others — extra police patrols.
The University of Iowa Department of Public Safety contracts with more than 10 local law enforcement agencies to help handle the hoards of fans who migrate to Iowa City every home football Saturday. And this year, with four back-to-back home games before the end of September, officers are bracing for a lot of activity.
“That will make it a very quick September for us,” said David Visin, associate director for the UI Department of Public Safety.
On top of the slammed September schedule, at least two of this season’s early home games are scheduled to start at 2:42 p.m. After one away game on Oct. 13, the Hawks are slated to return home for a 7 p.m. matchup with Penn State.
In recent years, games with later starts have produced more arrests and citations than most early games. Last year’s 6 p.m. game against Northwestern, for example, amassed the most arrests and citations on the season at 94.
In 2010, Iowa’s 7 p.m. game resulted in 153 arrests and citations. Only the home opener produced more that season with 160, and university officials said at the time that the high number was due to the launch of a “Think Before You Drink” initiative aimed at curbing illegal behavior around Kinnick Stadium on game days.
Visin said the UI’s biggest enforcement concern regarding afternoon and night games involves making sure officers are fresh.
“Our concern is the length of time officers are working,” he said. “We start operations at 7 a.m. for a night game.”
Later start times in this season’s back-to-back home game schedule are even more apt to produce overworked officers, and so Visin said his department is massaging schedules to avoid game day-enforcement fatigue.
“We are bringing in different shifts,” he said, explaining that some people will work early shifts and some will work later rather than staying on for the entire event.
Later games can result in more arrests and citations simply because many fans start tailgating at the same time they would for an 11 a.m. game, leaving more time for officer encounters and allowing some revelers more time to drink.
“In the morning, there are only three or four hours to have contact with security or police forces, while a later game brings about eight hours of contact,” Visin said.
The UI in 2010 took steps to halt illegal game day behavior through its “Think Before You Drink” initiative that implemented a time limit on postgame tailgating, emphasized enforcement of underage drinking, added vehicle safety checkpoints and took a zero-tolerance stance against violations of the city’s open container and public urination laws.
Iowa City’s open container law bans people from carrying open beer, wine and hard lemonade beverages on public sidewalks and roads, although they can still have those items in UI parking lots and ramps.
According to the UI’s game day enforcement statistics, arrests and citations spiked across the board in 2010 — jumping from a total of 256 arrests and citations in 2009 to a total of 703 arrests and citations in 2010, including 437 open container violations.
Officers working game day enforcement didn’t issue open container citations before 2010.
Last season, total arrest and citations numbers fell to 439, including 287 open container violations. Visin said he believes that’s evidence that more people are getting the message and complying with the law.
“I think we have had some positive results,” Visin said. “Some of our arrest rates have gone down, and that is encouraging.”
But some fans are concerned that this season, with its early string of home games and later starts, is ripe for rowdy game day behavior that will lead to another rise in arrest and citations numbers.
“People will be out there at 7 a.m. no matter what time the game starts,” said UI senior Tom Larson. “They will sit out there and get really drunk before the game even starts.”
Larson, who lives across Melrose Avenue from Kinnick Stadium with a house full of roommates, said he thinks the early placement of the string of home games, and the warm weather they’re sure to enjoy, also could contribute to rowdiness of fans this season.
“Die-hards will come out no matter what, but when it’s warm out, it’s more hectic and more conducive to tailgating all day,” Larson said, adding that — when it comes to night games — crowds can get so bad that he often plans to work all day to avoid the craziness.
“I will work extra hours because it’s not worth trying to get home,” he said.
Even with the increased chance of more police encounters, UI junior Greg Scime said he prefers later games — but not because it gives him more tailgating time.
“I prefer the 2:30 games because I get to sleep later,” he said.