Watch where you tailgate before games or risk a fine
Published: Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 11:58 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 11:58 a.m.
With a cool bottle of Bud Light in her hand, Ellen Lance carefully stayed on the right side of the restaurant's brick pathway. After tailgating in Gainesville for almost 30 years, she knew better than to take a chance with the city's open-container policy.
The 66-year-old from West Palm Beach happily obliged Aug. 31, the day of the Gators' home opener, when owners of The Swamp Restaurant kept patrons from straying beyond their walkway onto public property.
“Because it gets crazy, it needs to be controlled,” Lance said.
Cans, bottles and red Solo cups filled to the brim with beer are game day staples. But get caught drinking at the wrong place, and you could face a $125 fine and a date in county court.
With the University of Tennessee Volunteers coming to town this Saturday, followed by their loyal fans, the policy likely will be put to the test.
Over the years, arrests made during the UT weekend have made headlines and led to changes in how police enforce the policy.
In 1999, the death of two young people in off-campus fights during the weekend of the Tennessee game led the Gainesville Police Department to crack down on the free-for-all atmosphere of drinking before games.
Residents at the time recalled chaotic scenes of street fights, battles between men and women, even men exposing themselves.
Then, on Sept. 17, 2005, the arrest of two UT students led the Gainesville Police Department and the city to do away with the requirement that police arrest out-of-state drinkers so that they don't skip town and not pay the fine.
Police no longer consider residency a factor when deciding whether to take individuals to jail or simply issue them a citation and a notice to appear in court.
With a possible sell-out — only a handful of tickets remained Thursday — law enforcement officers from several agencies expect a large crowd of partiers before the 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
For four years, a bicycle team of eight University of Florida police officers and Alachua County Sheriff's Office deputies has patrolled the campus on game day looking for open-container violations. Any area not marked by stakes and ribbon is fair game for adults tailgating with alcohol, UPD Lt. William Gainey said.
UPD's unofficial policy, he said, is that adult drinking is permitted until fans leave their tailgate party to walk to the stadium. Carrying alcohol to the stadium is a violation.
If the offender is underage, he or she could be arrested for possession of alcohol. A student can be reported to UF for disciplinary action; each student's case is handled on a case-by-case basis.
Gainesville defines an open container as any bottle, can, glass, cup or other vessel, other than the original unbroken sealed container or a bottle of wine, containing an alcoholic beverage.
“Anytime you have a large gathering, there's going to be people who haven't been here before, and some people don't want to follow the law,” Gainey said.
GPD sends a team to areas north of campus, police spokesman Officer Ben Tobias said. He said GPD's main concerns are drunken and disorderly tailgaters, but officers usually let fans with open containers off with a verbal warning.
“It's almost like a pick-your-battles thing,” he said. “The security of thousands of people is more important than one ticket.”
At the season opener against Toledo, officers from all three agencies issued a total of 124 verbal warnings, four tickets and made no arrests for open-container violations. Last year's first home game against Bowling Green saw 111 warnings, 19 tickets and one notice to appear.
Businesses also have learned how to help keep their customers out of trouble.
The Swamp Restaurant general manager Nicholas Smith said his staff puts up fences marking off the property's boundaries and trash cans so patrons can toss their drinks away before leaving.
In his eight years as manager, Smith said he has seen police become more involved in the past three years with more police patrolling on bikes.
“We just don't want to see our customers getting into trouble with the city or get hurt,” he said.
Colin Adams, 24, is now very familiar with the policy. A recent transplant from New Jersey, he was cited after he left his beer on his bike the week before the Toledo game.
Adams, who was tailgating next to his car at Northwest 17th Street and First Avenue, said he believes police should intervene with fans only in the cases of underage drinking or violence.
“They should understand that people are in college and wanna have a good time,” he said.
Holly Sapienza, 48, of Ocala, has been tailgating with the “Tailgator Gang” for years. She said the group spends $10,000 a year for a coveted spot in front of Murphree Hall.
Sapienza, an '87 UF alumna, said her group's members are careful to put their cups down after seeing several fans getting cited in the past. She said she has seen police action range from officers tossing out cups to arresting fans.
Before, Sapienza said police were more lenient and intervened only when there was a problem.
“I wish it was how it used to be,” she said. “I don't see why they care. It's only six weekends.”
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