GVPD handles football game crowd with flexible tactics

<p>GVL / Daniel Pacheco</p>

GVL / Daniel Pacheco

Nick Moran

With waves of white and blue filling the stands, it was an all-hands-on-deck gameday for members of the Grand Valley Police Department. Officers from GVPD, the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department and Ferris State collaborated to handle the high attendance and spirits surrounding the football game between the two schools on Saturday, Oct. 13. 

During the game, officers from the three departments rotated between high visibility areas. GVPD Captain Jeff Stoll said that the department had nearly 50 team members present to handle the liveliness of the crowd. 

“Between the student, home and visitor sections, that was the most animated crowd we’ve had,” Stoll said. 

Due to the intensity for fans on both sides to see their team win and the high turnout, Stoll said that officers on the scene were constantly switching between a couple of different post-game strategies as victory favored one team or the other during the final quarter.

“Ferris brings everyone [to the game],” Stoll said. “So, we have to actually have different game plans [to handle the crowd] depending on who wins.”

After the stands were emptied, Stoll turned his focus to alleviating traffic buildup, constantly making note of where other officers were seeing delays. While Stoll said there were some backups, officers controlling traffic lights directed cars toward the main roads, sedating pressure when able. 

“We did ok,” Stoll said. “It was our best game of the season. But because of the size of the crowd and the closeness of the game, we still had some traffic problems.”

While the main problem facing GVPD during the game was the size of a mobile crowd, Stoll said that a lot of the issues the department tackles before and after the game are alcohol related. While a part of the gameday experience, Stoll said that the main factor in deciding when police step in is public safety.

For example, police stepped in to deescalate an unruly situation during the tailgate when one fan threatened to drive a metal stake through a car. That incident was one of ten alcohol-related issues between the start of the tailgate until the end of the first quarter, which is relatively busy Stoll said.

“We prioritize safety,” Stoll said. “When someone is drunk and threatening public safety, that’s when we give them a Minor in Possession (MIP), even if they think we’re being mean.”

Following the game, GVPD staff returned to their normal post-game shifts, ending the night for many officers.

Through the efforts of flexible traffic control plans keeping visitors moving, Sergeant Leah Heaton said post-game issues are less related to traffic and pertain more to alcohol consumption. Other incidents throughout the night included a collision near GVSU’s Wesley House, issues with students smoking on buses and a drunken driver arrest on Lake Michigan Ave. 

Regardless of the situation and suspect level of confidence, the presence of alcohol is usually apparent with many late-night post-game encounters. 

“You can’t fake these tests,” Stoll said. “Alcohol has a way of expressing itself whether you want it to or not.”

Despite being on alert throughout the night due to the size of the crowd, Stoll said he was pleasantly surprised with the civility following the Lakers’ loss.

“As an officer, you’re constantly taking in information,” Stoll said. “Then with that, you have to make judgement calls all the time of whether or not to engage… But tonight was slower than we thought.”