Lawrence police tell KU fans: Don’t bring glass bottles to celebrations downtown (And stay off roofs and cars)

Fans take to the streets in Lawrence as KU takes North Carolina with an 84-66 victory in the national semifinals on April 5, 2008.
Fans take to the streets in Lawrence as KU takes North Carolina with an 84-66 victory in the national semifinals on April 5, 2008.

In 2008, the last time the KU Jayhawks won a national basketball championship, police estimate that more than 30,000 screaming, cheering, jumping, happy fans poured into downtown Lawrence after the game.

Ask anyone who was there and it seemed more like a million people shoved themselves onto the city’s main drag, Massachusetts Street, that night.

With KU just two wins away from another Final Four appearance, Lawrence police have mapped out their own game plan for handling another celebration, should it happen.

They’ve armed themselves with a hashtag - #CelebrateSafely - on their Twitter account, @LawrenceKS_PD, where this week they reminded fans not to walk around in public with open containers and “treat Mass St. like the Vegas strip” during games.

“We want them to have fun and cheer the Jayhawks, but we want it to be done in a safe manner,” said Sgt. Amy Rhoads of the Lawrence Police Department.

“If you haven’t witnessed a national championship by the University of Kansas it really is something special and the crowds it brings to the downtown area are amazing. And that’s why there’s such a huge push to keep everyone safe.”

On Tuesday police began visiting bars and restaurants in downtown Lawrence to remind owners and managers of the no-glass rule that goes into effect as KU advances.

If the Jayhawks reach the Elite 8 on Saturday, glass bottles and other glass containers will be prohibited on three downtown streets — including Massachusetts — from 12 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Monday, according to city ordinance.

The ordinance will be enforced from 12 p.m. April 1 to 6 a.m. April 4 if the team makes it to the Final Four.

Scofflaws risk a misdemeanor fine of $100.

Police are going door-to-door asking bars and restaurants to serve all beverages in plastic cups on days KU plays, Saturday and beyond, in an effort to keep glass out of the hands of hyped-up throngs.

It’s not in effect Thursday when KU faces Purdue in the Sweet 16 at the Sprint Center because “historically the Sweet 16 (celebration) is not quite as big a celebration as when they advance from the Elite 8,” said Rhoads.

Police enforced a similar no-glass ordinance the last time KU made it to the Final Four in 2012, Rhoads said.

“Obviously as KU advances we’ve learned that everybody comes to Lawrence to celebrate. They come downtown and there’s thousands and thousands of people celebrating the victory,” she said, noting that people pour into Lawrence from all over the area, including Kansas City.

“So when you put glass into a mix of lots and lots of people, people throw stuff, trash gets thrown onto the streets, glass breaks. And we just don’t want anyone to get injured or cars to get damaged from bottles being thrown. So it’s really important to not just have glass out.”

It takes a village to keep those crowds under control. Lawrence police will get an assist from KU’s public safety department, Douglas County Sheriff, and city and county fire and medical agencies. In the past, police departments from the Kansas City area have also sent officers to work basketball celebrations.

The further along in the tournament the team advances, the bigger (and rowdier) the crowds typically become.

Anyone planning to party on Massachusetts would be wise to not park on Massachusetts, Rhoads recommended.

“Historically cars get damaged. Windows get broken because fans, they go crazy and get on top of cars and jump up and down to celebrate,” she said. “We don’t want that to happen.

“People are probably still going to park down there. But they need to be cautious because there’s a good potential that if KU wins, cars will be damaged.”

Police would also like fans to stay off rooftops, a popular place to watch the sea of humanity judging from YouTube videos of celebrations past.

“It’s dangerous to get on top of a roof, and potentially illegal,” said Rhoads.

Hold on tight to children if you take them to the party, she advised, stay in groups, and let your family know you are in the crowd and when you get home safely.

And there’s this: “We don’t want people to get into cars with individuals that they don’t know,” the sergeant said.