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Champaign Area Police Agencies Have Strategy for ‘Unofficial

The University of Illinois' Campustown area is days away from the weekend bar promotion known as Unofficial St. Patrick's Day.

Champaign Police Lieutenant Brad Yohnka says public safety remains the top priority, with more focus now on private parties, as many off-campus visitors come to the area. He says the U of I has done a great job stepping up security in buildings, and bars have been less of a concern since the entry age was raised to 21 over the weekend.

Yohnka says the nuisance parties are the biggest problem, with officers focused on those who invite underage drinking.

"If you're going to host a party, keep it small, keep it legal, and only alllow invited guests in," Yohnka said. "We're trying to get them to think more like a Super Bowl event. There are a lot of Super Bowl parties, and we don't add one additional officer. But this event is become people come from out of town who have no relationship with the community. They're the ones coming into town causing the problems and all the damage."

Yohnka says anyone caught hosting a party with underage drinkers will face state charges as well as a city ordinance violation. While celebrations in other cities are tied to sports or a charity, Champaign Mayor Don Gerard notes this one is based on binge drinking, and it's up to students if they want to make it something responsible.

But Gerard says the focus should be on such behavior, and not temporarily shutting down the businesses responsible for the 'Unofficial' promotion.

"To those who have come swooping in, saying we should just close down all the bars, I am a fantastic advocate of not having big goverment control our lives," he said. "And I think that would be absolutely the most egregiously irresponsible thing we could do to our local businesses."

Yohnka says police agencies will also place new signage in Campustown this weekend, alerting motorists to slow down or avoid the area altogether. Police will also use additional foot patrols, with about 100 officers in the area from Champaign, Urbana, the U of I, Illinois State Police, and Parkland College.

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