Ohio University Fest Season Brings Usual Caution From Police

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March is the month for unsanctioned street festivals in Athens, and police are gearing up for it. They don’t, however, expect to enforce the fests any differently than in other years.

“Our entire operation will be mobilized, as it usually is for the separate fests,” said Athens Police Department Chief Tom Pyle.

Millfest, held March 15, is the first of the season, followed by Highfest on March 22 and Palmerfest, the largest of the three, on March 29.

Pyle said the department plans to ask for outside law enforcement assistance for Palmerfest because of its “size and notoriety,” but don’t have that planned for the other two.

The fests come on the heels of the police department’s new goal to decrease the number of noise complaints and nuisance parties around the city.

In January, Pyle said noise complaints had dropped by 100 compared to the same time last year, and by 200 since 2010.

Nuisance party declarations quadrupled in January, compared to the same month in 2013. The department reported 53 declarations in 2013 and 13 in 2012, according to previous Messenger reporting.

“If you recall, we developed a much stricter enforcement initiative which began in September of 2012. That same initiative led to a much more orderly ‘fest’ season during spring quarter and all ‘fests’ ended before darkness set in,” Pyle wrote in a department newsletter.

Police increased their presence after 2012, when a fire started in the basement of a house on Palmer Street. The crowd’s reaction to the incident caused city officials to designate Palmerfest 2012 a riot zone and shut down the fest before dark.

The fire was ruled an arson.

Ron Lucas, Athens City public information officer said in 2012 that three of the last four Palmerfests had “ended in flames.”

A task force was created that summer, which recommended “stringent enforcement” of the city’s nuisance party ordinance. The enforcement resulted in police shutting down parties after one offense as opposed to multiple offenses.

Pyle said last year’s Palmerfest was “much improved.”

A total of 27 arrests were made by local law enforcement on 33 charges during the Saturday, with numerous parties shut down before 7 p.m.

Ohio University Police Chief Andrew Powers could not be reached for comment on this story.