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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Arrests, ejections, game-day violence decrease from 2006

Hordes of orange-and-blue-clad Gators fans marched toward Ben Hill Griffin Stadium armed with an arsenal of Solo cups and beer cans. It was just another Saturday in the Swamp.

Police patrolled the streets, munched on tailgate food and nabbed violators of the city's open container ordinance.

But despite appearances, Gators fans - especially UF students - have been behaving better. Arrests and ejections are down, as is gameday violence.

In 2006, there were 131 ejections from the stadium and 30 arrests, 17 of which were UF students, after the first two games. In 2007, there have been only 80 ejections and 19 arrests, six of which were students, after the first two games, according to press releases from the University Police Department Web site.

On Sept. 1, the date of the Western Kentucky game, the Gainesville Police Department issued 31 open container citations - three of which were to UF students, said Lt. Keith Kameg, spokesman for GPD.

"In the last three years I don't think we have responded to a single significant fight," Kameg said. "Alcohol consumption we want to address, but we don't want to see fights."

According to the Gainesville City Ordinances, it is unlawful for any person to consume or be in possession of any alcoholic beverage in an open container on any public street, sidewalk, or publicly owned parking facility in the city.

It is legal for those over 21 to drink within a tailgate area on campus, said UPD officer W.C. Sasser.

"Things have gotten much better in terms of people behaving since Coach Meyer took over," Sasser said. "Everything has been better for us. There have been very few fights."

An open container citation is an official summons that mandates violators must appear in court. It is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to ,500, 60 days in jail or both, according to the UPD Web site.

UPD, which works with GPD to enforce the open-container ordinance, started a push last year to crack down on excessive drinking. The goal was to eliminate tailgates with multiple kegs and liquor bottles, said UPD Capt. Jeff Holcomb.

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"This year, I think folks know what the rules are and are abiding by them," he said. "It makes us feel like we are getting our job done and getting it done well."

This fall marks the third year of UF President Bernie Machen's presidency, which features a campaign to crack down on binge drinking.

Many students are taking notice of the tougher enforcement of open container laws.

"Enforcement is getting tougher," said Stu Hawthorne, a senior business major. "They aren't taking people to jail, but they are making them dump it out."

While the numbers are down, law enforcement officials agree the true test will begin this weekend with the Tennessee game as Southeastern Conference rivals pour into town in the coming weeks.

UF alumnus Ben Bryant, who graduated in 2005, was issued an open container citation for his clear plastic water bottle filled with liquor and Coke before the Western Kentucky game. Bryant was never issued a citation while he was a student.

Bryant feels the enforcement is a gameday buzz kill.

"I think it takes away from it," Bryant said. "That's why people come out here. It's for the camaraderie and the tailgating, which wouldn't be the same without alcohol."

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