Drunken college students are usually accused of being rowdy, loud and obnoxious, but when the typical crowd of Ann Arbor bar-goers stumbled into the streets around 2:00 a.m. during last week’s Ann Arbor Art Fairs, some of them were pegged as potential criminals.

Whenever more than 500,000 people pack the streets of Ann Arbor – especially for the city’s annual extravaganza of all things art – laws are bound to be broken. The reality, though, is that you’re more likely to see a 15-foot-tall bronze rabbit posted in the middle of the street than a petty criminal.

Police and artists agree that shoplifting and theft are rare occurrences at the Art Fairs, and even after shops are closed up for the night most artists said they felt like the paintings and pottery they left behind would be safe.

So when security guard Luciano Dukus patrolled the street fair after dark last week, he wasn’t looking to bust an elaborate art heist or catch a thief with an armful of woven wicker baskets. Instead, Dukus said he looked for the same kind of drunken antics that would happen on a typical football Saturday.

One of eight guards assigned to South University Avenue, Dukus said he managed to keep tabs on artists’ booths and watch people roaming the streets just by paying a little extra attention to bars like The Brown Jug and Good Time Charley’s.

“Pretty much any time after 10 p.m. we watch the bar doors to see who’s going in and who’s coming out,” Dukus said.

Whether it’s someone peeing on a tent or just peeking in to see the art inside, though, Dukus said it’s usually the case that it will happen after 2 a.m. — and when it does, he works with the Ann Arbor policeto keep things under control.

Though this year’s rap sheet for the South University area included just one failed attempt at stealing a wheelchair and one report of vandalism that was stopped within minutes, Ann Arbor police officer Pete Tsangaris said those are the kinds of minor incidents that happen basically every year.

Tsangaris, who was also assigned to patrol the South University area, added that Maynard Street, near the ever-popular Scorekeepers Sports Grill and Pub, has also been a problematic spot in the past. But even on streets with busy bars, Tsangaris said theft has never been a serious issue at the annual Art Fairs.

And that’s why Chicago-based artist Cheryl Ward said her long-held post in front of Rick’s American Café didn’t give her any cause for concern.

The mixed media artist and her husband have made a living off of selling their art at fairs across the country for the past eight years, and for them, theft has never been an issue in Ann Arbor.

“I mean you’ve got a bar right here,” Ward said. “People can stumble in and people can sleep in here, but usually there’s no theft or damage.”

Even though Ward said she doesn’t lock her tent at night, she said she suspected the couple’s work was safe – but she said that’s mostly because there’s no real black market for abstract impressionism or mixed media, she said.

She added that the artists who run a real risk are those who sell smaller, more expensive items like gems or jewelry.

“But they have no idea what to do with this stuff,” Ward said of her art, which sold for around $1500 a piece last week. “You can’t hock it, so what else are you doing to do with it?”

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