As the headlights of Ann Arbor Police Officer Denny DeGrand’s slow-moving squad car illuminated a wall of angry faces, a booming “boo” gained volume and followed the car down the block.
“I’ll close the window so we don’t get a bottle in here or spit at,” DeGrand said.
Breaking up Greenwood block party during Welcome Week can get dangerous, but that’s what the AAPD’s special “party patrol” was created to do.
The party patrol, about a dozen officers that ticket student drinkers between 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. during Welcome Week and weekends of football home games, has been the AAPD’s way of dealing with hoards of drunken students since the advent of the kegger.
The main goal of mass ticketing for minor in possession or open intoxication, the two most common offenses, is to keep students uncomfortable with breaking laws that lead to dangerous behavior like fighting, binge drinking and tearing city signs from the ground, AAPD Officer Brad Rougeau said.
The officers carry around large cans of mace that can debilitate an entire crowd with one spray. Riot gear waits back at the station.
“All it’s going to take is one group of them to start chanting or something,” DeGrand said.
Officers agree that Welcome Week without party patrol would mean an increase in everything from broken glass to alcohol poisoning.
“All we’re trying to do is contain it, keep it down to a manageable level,” Rougeau said. “We’re not going to stop it, we know that. We have no illusions of grandeur.”
Though the rate of alcohol-related tickets given out per night is circumstantial, Rougeau said that many students have gotten the hint by the end of the fall.
“Usually 10, 12, 15 per night, it tends to taper off toward the end of football season,” he said. “There’s a learning curve.”
In an atmosphere where debauchery is the norm, party patrol officers canvas student neighborhoods, investigating complaints around campus for pedestrians to slap with citations for open alcohol or disorderly conduct.
As DeGrand drove around on Thursday night, noise violations lit up his squad car computer screen and a coworker’s voice crackled in over the radio about a female student fighting with an officer.
With all the fear in involved, exchanges between officers and students tend to play out primitively. The officer approaches his unsuspecting target purposefully — pointing a flashlight just at the moment it’s too late to run. Then the offender tenses up like a cornered baby rabbit, making a vain attempt to drop or hide his drink.
According to DeGrand, the most surefire way to slap a wandering drinker with an “open intox” is to hide and wait.
Two minutes into his stakeout in an alley across from East Quad, he spotted a Washtenaw Community College student strolling around with a friend and a can of Busch Light.
“I…” she said meekly when DeGrand stopped her. Knowing it would be hopeless to struggle, the minor sighed and let herself be directed to the patrol car.
After answering the routine questions in a singsong voice, she turned to DeGrand of all people for support. “So it should be fine…right?”
If it wasn’t exactly fine, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been—because she was so cooperative DeGrand only cited her for open intox, sparing her an M.I.P.
Some students try harder to save themselves. One student pled ignorance while receiving an open intox ticket for walking around with a bagged forty of Bud Light.
“I didn’t know, I’m so sorry,” she said.
“Unfortunately, that’s not an excuse,” DeGrand replied, scribbling out a ticket.
Her friend then attempted to help by asking DeGrand if he is a Christian. Starting to smirk, he tells her that it makes no difference.
“Well really, yes it does,” the friend said. “Because she is the most amazing Christian ever.”
It’s common for students to feel like they’re being victimized or ticketed unfairly. Such was the case of the busted student who mocked DeGrand when he was stopped and written up for walking around with an open forty.
“Yeah, I’m really a civil violator,” he said as he gestured to students who were breaking bottles and humping each other in the street a few feet away. “I’m not littering, breaking stuff, drunken or disorderly. I’m… I’m pretty all right.”
Before walking away with his ticket, the student gave DeGrand a cocky slap on the shoulder.
DeGrand said that pompousness tests his patience.
“Usually they’re ‘pre-law,’ ” he said, making “air quotes” with his hands. “Or their dad’s a lawyer. You can try to explain it to them a hundred million times and they’re always right.”
But if students are cooperative, they can sometimes catch a break. Rougeau said it’s not uncommon to only ticket for the lesser offense when several violations have occurred. The AAPD put on a tougher show during Welcome Week to put the fear of law into students early on, but during the rest of the year some students even get off with warnings.
“When it’s just two people, standing there talking on the sidewalk… I’d rather do that myself than write two tickets for open intox and spend a half an hour writing a report at the station,” Rougeau said.
DeGrand agreed. “Their demeanor dictates a lot. I’ll still write them a ticket, but I’ll give them a break if I can.”
The moment after an officer confronts him, an offender makes a choice—drop the container and play dumb, turn to the officer and cooperate or run like hell.
Last week, the guy in the white t-shirt and his friend with dreadlocks chose the latter. Freezing up for a second, the duo then sprinted in separate directions down Greenwood Avenue.
DeGrand was on their heels in a flash—only to return minutes later.
“See, that’s one of those that’s not worth it,” he said, coming back empty-handed from the 20-yard chase. “To us, it’s no big deal. But they’ll probably be talking about this for the next two months.”
After 12 years on party patrol, DeGrand treats these escapes with gruff indifference, attributing this one to his own ambition.
“I tried to get both at once,” he said, shaking his head.
But you don’t necessarily have to work in teams to escape.
“So many tickets,” DeGrand bemoaned, surveying the intersection of Greenwood and East University.
“There’s a U.I.P…” he said, pointing his flashlight at a skinny guy in a purple polo peeing in the bushes on Greenwood.
Turning sheepishly toward DeGrand, the offender zipped up his pants and bolted. This chase lasted a little longer, but was likewise deemed not worth the fight.
“He got away!” hollered two male onlookers, waving their arms in giddy support for the pisser. “He got away!”
Rougeau said that students don’t usually run from police officers, but when they do, shenanigans and penalties abound.
He recounted his shift last Wednesday where he tackled and fell on top of a student who was brazenly urinating on the corner of Geddes and Observatory.
“We kept saying ‘come over here, come over here,’ but he didn’t listen. We probably wouldn’t have given him two tickets, but he was far too drunk. He was peeing and kept denying that he was peeing, so…”
The student was slapped with misdemeanors for minor in possession and urinating in public.
“One of the things, one of the phenomena, is what becomes normal after a while,” Rougeau said.
On the drive away from Greenwood, DeGrand’s sights fell on a party at the corner of Thompson and Packard Street.
He nodded to the student with dreadlocks who evaded him an hour earlier.
“Let’s see if he runs when I pull up to the house,” DeGrand said. Sliding into the neighboring driveway, he caught the kid in his squad car spotlight and chuckled when he dashes full-tilt into the backyard.
Driving back to the station, DeGrand pondered his choice not to get the dreadlocked guy.
“It’s one of those, is it really worth it?” he asked, rubbing his chin. “Although, for him… it might have been worth it.”
—SARA LYNNE THELEN

ILLUSTRATION BY ALLISON GHAMAN/Daily

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