Police: Cheer team ticket still stands
By Adela Talbot
October 03, 2013
Despite protests and punch lines from across the country, a ticket issued to the Mustang cheerleading squad under the city’s nuisance bylaw will stand, according to London Police Service officials. And for many, that’s nothing to cheer about.
The $140 fine came after the team made an impromptu stop to cheer in a residential area near Western’s gates. According to London police, a crowd of roughly 2,000-3,000 people had already flooded a two-block radius of the Broughdale Avenue area, and the cheer drew an additional 200-300 spectators, increasing potential for risk to public safety and prompting the fine for team captain Max Gow.
The story of the cheering infraction gained momentum over Homecoming weekend, quickly becoming a national story, with articles and opinion pieces questioning the police and the motivation behind the fine. That exposure prompted London police into a hastily called ‘Homecoming 2013 press conference’ ostensibly to address overall weekend enforcement, but, in actuality, to discuss the cheerleading ticket.
“A significant challenge emerged on Broughdale Avenue, with crowds that far exceeded the numbers of previous years,” said Brent Shea, deputy chief of the London Police Service, Monday.
The otherwise successful and enjoyable Homecoming celebrations are unfortunately being overshadowed by this one incident, Shea said, noting there were no injuries or other incidents, save the one on Broughdale which came with “considerable implications for public safety.”
He added an additional 68 officers worked to ensure Homecoming was a safe and successful event. A total of 270 tickets were issued to Western students, 212 for liquor violations and the remainder for violations of public urination, trespassing, noise and nuisance by-laws.
Given the crowd density in the Broughdale area – shown as a purple-clad mass, lined shoulder-to-shoulder, in a video played at the press conference – emergency services such as EMS or fire trucks, would not have been able to access the street, Shea explained.
The heavy consumption of alcohol in the crowd, with students climbing the rooftops of homes, made for a significant risk to public safety, he continued. What’s more, the area is a residential area, housing not just students, and it’s the context under which the ticket was issued that needs to be considered.
“(This) is not much different than what we witnessed on St. Patrick’s Day in 2012, with the exception that the crowd on Broughdale was much larger. The potential for escalation was considerable,” Shea said.
On March 17, 2012, St. Patrick's Day celebrations turned violent when parties spilled onto the street on Fleming Drive, an area near Fanshawe College where many students live. That crowd of 1,000 or so turned the east end of London into a war zone by attacking police and burning vehicles. Damage from the drunken mass tallied roughly $500,000.
While the Homecoming event was peaceful, the crowd in a small area was a concern for police.
“There are people that live on that street that are not students, and that is their residential street. Our intention is not to spoil fun or to interfere with people having a good time. Our intention is to ensure community safety, and safety for everybody, not just the student population. If there was a fire at the end of that street, we wouldn’t have been able to get a fire truck down there.”
Shea added the police received a call about an assault in the area and were unable to send a cruiser to respond. Instead, an officer had to head in on foot.
While cheerleaders in the past have performed as part of the Homecoming parade, the parade’s controlled atmosphere is not the same as doing a cheer and blocking a public roadway, Shea continued, asking to consider the question, “Was this a wise location for the cheerleaders to be?”
“This weekend was an excellent Homecoming weekend but just one thing is being discussed – one ticket,” Shea said.
Western issued a statement prior to the news conference Tuesday. The university applauded police efforts “in maintaining a safe and enjoyable environment through Project L.E.A.R.N., while allowing our students and alumni to celebrate another wonderful Homecoming.” The statement also lauded a cheerleading team “known the world over for delivering incredible performances. The university believes strongly that an impromptu performance by some of the cheerleaders en route to campus was well-intentioned.”
“Western also understands that London Police felt the need to act and engage their crowd control strategies to manage this large gathering on Saturday,” the statement concluded. “We look forward to continuing to work with our students, the community and the London Police Service to ensure weekends, like the one we just experienced, are as safe and successful in the future.”
Ward 13 councilor Judy Bryant, who attended the conference Monday, said she drove by the festivities and was concerned, finding the crowd “quite alarming.”
While councilor Stephen Orser has criticized the police for issuing the ticket, Bryant said the police’s concern is public safety, and that includes the city’s students.
“When you see students sitting on the roof like that, you get a lump in the throat because you’re wondering what’s going to happen, if they’re drunk, etc.,” she said.
“I am not concerned about the (city’s) image. I would be concerned if we had another Fleming Drive. Eighteen months ago, we had that incident in the east side and that cost the city half a million dollars,” Bryant added, when asked about the attention the city is getting from national media over the incident.
“I drove by and I was thankful I wasn’t driving onto my own street.”
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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