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Police discuss football games with community

Sarah Mervosh | Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Police officers addressed community members about home football game Saturdays and gave them advice on traffic, parking and tailgating safety at this month’s “Creating A Safe Community” meeting Tuesday in South Bend.

“Eighty thousand people descend on campus in a community where we normally have 11,000 students. So it’s a big, big deal for us as a community,” director of the Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) Phil Johnson said.

Johnson said the goal of the game day safety team is to “have a safe experience for our community members” and “to provide emergency routes” so that ambulances have access to the campus and surrounding neighborhoods.

“I didn’t say anything about fan convenience because that isn’t our mission,” he said. “A byproduct of our good work is that we have a great experience for our fans too.”

A major side effect of game days on the community is the influx of people and changing traffic patterns to accommodate those attending the game. Three and a half to four hours before the game begins and one to two hours after the game ends roads around campus become one way.

“Most of the roads around the campus become one way into the campus and you have to have a special pass to get down some of these roads,” Johnson said. “We have this relatively sophisticated plan that directs cars to the lots that they’re going in. Police officers are at all the key intersections.

“All of these things come together to provide a great, safe experience to people who live in South Bend and who come to the game.”

Although Johnson said some community members get frustrated because the one-way streets interrupt their daily errands, the goal is to have the traffic flow be as efficient as possible.

“If you don’t want to go to the game and you want to go to Martins, Krogers or Meijer, that you can still get your business done too,” he said.

Johnson warned that this weekend’s game versus Michigan State will see the highest volume of automobiles because of the proximity of the two schools.

There are also new parking opportunities for game days on and near campus this year, he said.

“We’re opening part of that golf course for parking. We think we can accommodate somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 cars,” he said. “We’re going to be able to do that and still keep the integrity of the course.”

“I’d really recommend that as a parking area,” he said.

Johnson also said Eddy’s Street Commons will provide extra parking.

“There’s a brand new parking garage with 1,250 parking spaces. There’s a covered garage with a lot of parking available. We’re excited that Eddy Street will be open post game and provide us with another exit from campus following the games to help us expedite the process.”

In response to a community member’s complaint that the campus does not provide enough parking for those coming in from the outside, Johnson acknowledged the problem, but also explained why it exists.

“Our campus beckons back to a time long ago where we haven’t put the car at the center of the universe. The implication of that is that we have to walk more,” he said. “It is important to us that our neighbors and our friends feel welcome on campus. It is a difficult balance between running a major university … and also be welcoming so people can drive the way that they’re used to.”

Notre Dame Police Officer Keri Kei Shibata spoke at the meeting about safety during game days and recommended that fans be aware that an increased number of people on campus paves the way for an increase in crime.

“Keep your property secured in your vehicle or someplace else,” she said, and warned against leaving out tailgating supplies during the game. “We haven’t had a lot of incidents of theft but when we do it’s when things are left out.”

Corporal Pat Hechlinski from the South Bend Police also warned against leaving personal items in cars.

“The easiest way to do that to prevent something from getting stolen from your car is to pretend you’re the bad guy,” Hechlinski said. He suggested walking around the car and seeing if anything of interest is visible.

“We’ve seen people break into cars for as little as 50 cents in a cup holder, a pack of cigarettes,” he said.

Shibata advised being extra vigilant on such weekends, even when crime is normally low in the area.

“When we have a home football game, it affects pretty much everyone in the city,” Shibata said. “Just be aware that the increased number of people can be a cover of criminal activity of all different kinds because it’s easy to blend in with the crowds.”