Police prepare for Homecoming

A contingent of 40 police officers patrolled Homecoming festivities last year.
Image supplied by: Journal File Photo
A contingent of 40 police officers patrolled Homecoming festivities last year.

Using last year as a benchmark, Kingston Police say there will be a minimum of 40 officers prepared to patrol Homecoming this weekend.

“You’ll see the same type of enforcement that you saw during [Orientation] Week,” said Insp. Brian Cookman, who oversees the city’s patrol officers. “Officers are going to be around and they are instructed to take action when they see an infraction and if they [hear] a citizen complaint.”

During Orientation Week, more than 110 charges were laid against students in the Ghetto for Liquor Licence Act infractions, including open alcohol, public intoxication and underage drinking, as well as charges for noise bylaw infractions and a single ticket for jay-walking.

Cookman said that while police are not talking publicly about this year’s Homecoming strategy, none of the force’s 179 officers will be allowed to take time off over the weekend.

“That’s to ensure there’s available staffing to run the city as well,” he said. “But there are those who think [our strategy] didn’t go very well [last year].”

Approximately 5,000 people flocked to Aberdeen Street on the Saturday night of last year’s Homecoming.

Following the event, Staff Sgt. Chris Scott, who oversaw the police presence, told the Journal that police made 19 arrests directly attributable to Homecoming, 14 of which were for public intoxication and mischief.

There were also 88 open liquor charges, 38 charges against people illegally selling alcohol and approximately 400 verbal warnings given out, he said.

Cookman said police will take action if they see people gathering in the streets.

“What we’ll be doing is asking people if they’re starting to congregate on the side of the street, asking them to step back on their property, please leave this area clear for vehicle and pedestrian traffic,” Cookman said. “Nobody wants to use the law—we’re trying not to lose sight of the fact that this is a group of people who are trying to have some fun on the Homecoming weekend.

“But one element’s desire to have the fun that occurred on Aberdeen Street [last year] can’t supersede the right of other people to enjoy their property.”

Cookman said police are trying to foster the belief that their presence is “not about [an] us and them mentality.

“If 5,000 people want to take over the street, 40 or 50 police officers aren’t going to win the day—that’s simple arithmetic and if people choose to do that, then we’ll react [with] whatever capabilities we have in order to try and deter that activity from occurring,” he said. “The police are trying to respond in the mandate that we’re given, which is to preserve the peace and protect the public.”

Enforcement cost the force $35,000 in overtime last year, Cookman said.

He wouldn’t disclose the projected cost the force will incur this year.

“If anyone can do the math, then ostensibly you can figure out how many officers will be working over the weekend,” he said.

The University contributed $6,500 to the force last year to offset the cost of overtime officers, Cookman said.

He said the force is making a request for contribution again, but will not insist upon it.

“It just became a topic that was thrown out, and the University on its own volition actually came through with the $6,500—ultimately it’s the same as this year,” he said. “It’s purely a request, and at the end of the day it’s entirely up to Queen’s University whether a contribution is forthcoming or not.”

Cookman said this year’s costs will reflect the enforcement that is required.

“I react to whatever situation is presented to me,” he said. “If it’s a bad weekend in terms of weather, I’ll adjust [policing] accordingly, if it’s a really nice weekend, I’ll adjust things accordingly.

“If I start receiving information, one way or another, that [there are] eight or nine keggers planned—God forbid—then I would adjust the numbers accordingly to reflect this.”

Vice-Principal (Advancement) George Hood said the police hadn’t yet made a formal request for a financial contribution.

He said he hasn’t determined if the University will contribute again.

“Up until now we’ve just basically been focused on Homecoming … so we really haven’t given it any thought at all,” Hood said. “It would be some period of time after Homecoming where we would actually sit down and cast our minds to that.”

Hood said he won’t use last year as a benchmark in making any decisions.

“I don’t really care about what happened in previous years, because what we’re doing in terms of breadth of programming, in terms of obviously trying to hold a concert … and obviously in trying to deal with issues that arose out of last year, that’s a number and it’s a number based on last year’s programming and not on this year’s.”

The University and the AMS are teaming up to hold a five-hour concert in Miller parking lot Saturday night. The event will be hosted by NHL star and Queen’s hockey coach Kirk Muller, and will feature bands including Billy Talent and Metric. Tickets are free for students, who can bring one friend at a cost of $10. Tickets are available at Destinations in the JDUC

Cookman said overtime policing costs will eventually be borne by city taxpayers.

“We just don’t have extra money … [and] there’s not a lot of flex left in the money we do receive from the city,” he said. “To suddenly be faced with a $35,000 bill, we just do not have reserved money of that magnitude to cover it off.”

Cookman added that other than last year, he’s not aware of the force ever making a request for financial contribution to any group in the past.

“This is a unique situation, it’s really a stand alone type of issue,” he said.

Hood said he supports the force’s efforts to ensure a safe Homecoming.

“[The police have] taken what I would consider to be a very progressive view to ensure Homecoming is successful, the interests of the community are looked after and there’s not a repetition of last year,” he said.

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