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Ole Miss Police Department Keeps Fans Safe on Game Days

Photo courtesy of www.upd.olemiss.edu.
Photo courtesy of www.upd.olemiss.edu.

On a typical fall game day in Oxford, fans enjoy a wonderful day of fellowship, food, and fun in the Grove before heading to the stadium to witness the heart-pounding excitement of Ole Miss Football. But what happens behind the scenes with the hard working men and women whose task it is to keep sixty thousand visitors safe?

UPD’s preparation begins long before the fans arrive on campus, with preparation meetings all during the week prior to the game.

Captain Michael Harmon said, “We’re in meetings all week long concerning football game day preparation. Some weeks we have meetings as late as Friday. Personally, I am usually glad when Saturday comes.”

The Friday prior to the game, a detail is stationed in the Grove preventing fans from setting up their tailgates early. Once the Grove opens at 8 p.m., officers stay stationed until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.

“Once they are through with the Grove detail, we have to have a detail of four to six officers to work fraternity parties. So they’re working until one in the morning, and they have to turn around and come in at seven o’clock the next morning to work the game” said Harmon.

When game day arrives, officers stay late into the night. For a game with a 1 p.m. kickoff time, officers will work until 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. at night, sometimes longer for later games.

“For the Alabama game, we were here until 3 a.m. We actually worked 21 hours.” Captain Jane Tutor said, “Even though I may go home after those hours, we may get called out for a sexual assault or any violent crime.”

Officers work multiple stations during games. The Grove must be monitored for the fans that choose not to attend the game. In the stadium there is a referee detail, the Pride of the South Band’s detail, the visiting band’s detail, and visiting team detail among others. In order to staff the multiple positions, UPD brings in temporary officers from all over the state, averaging 72 per game. This is in addition to the general Ole Miss student population.

“That’s in addition to just our regular residents. We still have to take care of that population. We still have to have patrols, and they have to handle all those different situations that come up in the residence halls,” said Captain Thelma Curry, a 37-year veteran of the University Police Department.

Assistant Chief of Police Ray Hawkins said, “I think sometimes people forget that we have other things going on other than the ballgame. People having wrecks, assaults, people needing their cars unlocked or jumped off. It’s all still going on in addition to the game.”

Last year’s thrilling last-minute win over Alabama provided a post-game security dilemma for our officers, as approximately ten thousand jubilant students and fans rushed the field.

“I don’t think it’s ever decided to let them have the field, but when we get overwhelmed and outnumbered, for security reasons it’s best to back away and let them have it. Even at the Alabama game, we did put up some resistance initially to try to keep them back. But when there’s that much energy in the stadium, it’s hard for a hundred officers to hold back ten thousand people, and they just overwhelmed us. I think every time that people have rushed the field, that’s what happened. We try to show a presence, but when they rush at one time it’s really difficult to control it without someone being injured or arrested. We try to prevent that whenever possible. I think that in the future, we’re going to have to look at that because of the SEC fine being raised. We’re going to have to show up early, and show more deterrents to prevent that from happening” said Hawkins.

Crowd control and dealing with drunk and disorderly fans is an unfortunate occurrence during games, particularly those with later kickoff times. Officers are not given specific commands on how to deal with individual situations, but are given leeway to make their own assessments of how best to deal with these.

Hawkins said, “It can range from being taken out of the stadium or arrested depending on how they want to resolve it. If they are too intoxicated to take care of themselves, they either go to the jail or we call the EMS to deal with them. The officers arrive on the scene and assess the situation, and then make a decision based upon what the circumstances are.”

Despite the long hours and sometimes difficult positions, the UPD officers are proud of what they do to be a part of the Ole Miss game day experience.

“When you look at the whole atmosphere of the Grove and game day, it’s kind of mesmerizing to be a part of that. You’ve got people from all over the country who gather and congregate. It’s sort of a fellowship. It gives our university a good reputation” said Hawkins, “We had a group come visit from New York. They just hopped in their car and drove down. Not to go to the game, but just to experience the Grove.”

Hawkins, Curry, Harmon and Tutor have a combined 91 years of experience working for UPD, dating back to 1978. When asked about the changes in that time, Curry said “We’ve gone from having two or three games here per season with 40,000 seats to what it is now.”

Harmon played football for Ole Miss in the late seventies and early eighties. He said, “When I played, we played two games here and the rest in Jackson.”

When asked what position Harmon played, he said, “Wide receiver. Now I’m just wide.”

Article by Dr. Bill DeJournett, associate director of bands and director of the Pride of the South marching band. He can be reached at dejou@olemiss.edu.

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