MORGANTOWN (AP) — With 181 deliberately set street and trash bin fires behind them and more football weekends ahead, Morgantown and West Virginia University have developed new tactics to control rowdy crowds. They just won’t say what they are.
City and school officials met privately this week in the wake of more than 40 fires set around town last weekend after WVU’s 48-45 win over Texas. Police Chief Ed Preston brought in a crowd-control expert for advice but declined to identify him for fear he would be “barraged by questions or targeted by the community.”
Fire Marshall Ken Tennant, meanwhile, said his department has responded to 181 fires so far this year — 101 street blazes and 80 set in large commercial trash bins.
That’s the fourth-highest number of fires in the 15 years the department has been logging them. The record is 274 in 2003, followed by 245 fires in 1998.
Only three more, and the city will surpass the 184 fires that were set in 1999.
Both Morgantown and WVU have tried for years to crack down on fire-starters, invoking state arson laws rather than charging offenders with misdemeanors and expelling students convicted for bad behavior.
But it hasn’t worked.
Last weekend, 50 officers in helmets, gas masks and body armor used pepper spray to disperse a crowd of about 1,000 that set fires and threw bricks and bottles at them.
The Police Department posted nine photos of those crowds on Facebook in hopes of identifying some of the latest offenders, drawing hundreds of comments and more than 140 shares in less than 24 hours.
Preston and WVU Dean of Students Corey Farris tell media outlets new tactics will be used this weekend, when the Mountaineers play at Texas Tech, and next weekend, when they’re at home against Kansas State in what promises to be the biggest game of the season.
Both refuse to elaborate.
“It’s not a smart idea to dangle things in front of people and say, ‘Here’s your game plan,’” Farris said. “Coach Holgorsen doesn’t go out onto the field and give all the plays to the opposing team.”
“The troublemakers are smart enough, will deliberately try to circumvent the order most people want in the community,” Farris said. “Will there be a police presence? Absolutely. If I were the police, I wouldn’t want everyone to know where everyone is.”
Zach Redding, president of the WVU Student Government Association, said the behavior of some students shows “no class, no sportsmanship or respect for authority.”
Senior criminology major Richard Hall, a cadet with campus police, called the behavior ridiculous but said it will be hard to stop.
“Students are innovative,” he said. “The university says, ‘Don’t burn couches,’ so they burn Dumpsters. They say, ‘Don’t burn Dumpsters,’ and they’ll burn something else.”