Of the 924 undercover officer arrests in Athens in the past five years, 454 — nearly half — took place at a spring fest.
According to data obtained from the Ohio Investigative Unit (OIU), 1,661 charges and 925 arrests were made between Jan. 1, 2013, and Oct. 1, 2018, in Athens.
OIU agents made 147 arrests at Number Fest, 88 at Mill Fest, 59 at Palmer Fest, 51 at High Fest, 38 at Palmer Place Fest, 10 at Congo Fest and 5 at Milliron Fest. About 56 were labelled “Half Fest.”
Ohio University Police Department Lt. Tim Ryan said OUPD officers usually don’t patrol undercover, and he couldn’t think of a reason why they would.
“We have a need for a police presence that people can see us,” Ryan said. “We don’t have room to not have any (unidentified officers).”
That’s because the OIU is the law enforcement agency in charge of liquor licenses. Some events, such as Number Fest, receive temporary liquor licenses — which means the OIU will come to enforce the license, Michelle Thourot, agent in charge at the OIU, said.
“We are the only law enforcement agency in the state of Ohio that is allowed to cite or issue a violation notice against a liquor license,” Thourot said. “We would be the governing body of that.”
Any law enforcement agency — including OUPD, the Athens Police Department or the Athens County Sheriff’s Office — can write a citation to an underage person breaking the law. The OIU, however, is the only agency that can cite a bar for a violation.
“Other law enforcement agencies can go in, do arrests, all of those things on a liquor license,” Thourot said. “But a violation or criminal activity on top of, let’s say someone is doing something they’re not supposed to do at a bar, (and) if the bar is also involved, we’re the ones that would cite the bar itself.”
Thourot said police departments often request the OIU because it is the agency that handles the citations.
“That’s how we ended up working throughout the state with a lot of those law enforcement officers who have those fests or community events where there is a liquor license received,” Thourot said.
Exactly 179 arrests have been made during the Athens Halloween Block Party within the past five years. Data from the 2018 block party were not included. Exactly six arrests have occurred during Homecoming within the past five years.
From the Uptown bars, 23 arrests have been at The Crystal, 15 arrests have been at Courtside Pizza, six have been at The J Bar, five at Pawpurr’s Bar, five at The Pigskin Bar and Grille, and two at Stephen’s On Court. Seven were at Pyramids Hookah and Bar.
Thirty arrests occurred at unspecified locations in Athens. Three arrests occurred at Busy Day Market, and one occurred at Walmart.
Six arrests were at, or around, the Athens Kroger.
Thourot said there may be more arrests near Kroger because people may gather and pool money in the parking lot.
“There would be a lot of people that would come to that area, maybe underage, maybe not,” Thourot, said. “There would be an overage person going in and getting the liquor because it is the only place you can buy it in that area. That is why I think local and state law enforcement would be involved.”
Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said he does not have to invite the OIU because it is “autonomous,” but he expects them to be there.
“It’s always a given that they will be here, and we just coordinate efforts,” Pyle said. “They’re a state agency, so they go where people go. It’s not like you know there’s been a major event in the city that OIU doesn’t know about or doesn’t plan to attend in some fashion.”