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Morgantown, WVU police chiefs study Penn State riots

AP Photo
Penn State University students flip over a television news van during a riot Wednesday night after it was announced that Joe Paterno would no longer be head coach of the Penn State football team.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Penn State University students flooded campus streets last week after longtime football coach Joe Paterno was fired over a child sexual-abuse scandal, police leaders in Morgantown were watching.Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston and West Virginia University Police Chief Bob Roberts said a comprehensive plan is in place within both departments that covers how officers handle crowds and riots.Preston said he evaluated what took place in State College, Pa., and applied it to how Morgantown police could handle a similar situation. However, he cautioned against a one-size-fits-all approach."Each situation is different," he said. "There's not a simple, 'this is what we will do every time' fix."Late Wednesday night, thousands of Penn State students made national news when they filled the streets and destroyed lamp posts, vehicles and campus property, even overturning a TV news truck in reaction to the university board of trustees firing of Paterno.WVU students have a national reputation for unruliness. Preston said, though, that the last time Morgantown police had to deal with large crowds of rowdy WVU students was in May, when spontaneous celebration broke out in response to the death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. According to reports at the time, WVU students burned couches in the streets and took more than two hours to disperse.Preston would not go into detail about police processes for dealing with crowd control, but noted that Morgantown police have riot gear and tear gas. He said Morgantown and WVU police deal with crowd control on a regular basis for events that include concerts and WVU football games.
Roberts, the WVU chief, said he doesn't expect police to have a problem controlling crowds should students become unruly. Campus police and the university community have established a good relationship with the student body to prevent crowd problems, he said."We are engaged with our students to help to reduce those kinds of issues," Roberts said. "The police community and the whole campus community ... we stay in touch with what's going on."Communication is the first step in crowd control - communication between officers and students before a problem escalates, he said."There are policies that cover a riotous situation," Roberts said. "Luckily, we've not had to deploy it."WVU police work closely with Morgantown officers, the Monongalia County Sheriff's Department and the West Virginia State Police to manage the university's 29,000 students, Roberts said.There are 53 campus police officers, which averages out to about one officer for every 547 students, he said. The Morgantown Police Department has 62 officers, and is looking to add five more, Preston said.Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.
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