UPDATE: This story has been updated at the end with the statement from MSU.
The East Lansing Police Department is seeking help identifying individuals who set fires in public right-of-ways and damaged and destroyed cars and other property on Saturday night following Michigan State University’s win over the University of Michigan in football.
According to a just-released press statement, “ELPD will be pursuing charges against identified individuals who committed crimes following the game.”
The statistics accompanying the press release tell the tale of what police and fire officials faced as some people – mostly young men wearing Spartan garb – set dozens of fires around the city and gathered in crowds that made the situation dangerous:
“Throughout the day on Oct. 30, ELPD had a total of 349 calls for service and there were 20 citations issued and five arrests made. From 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 30 to 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 31, ELFD had a total of 142 call for service, including 79 EMS calls, 57 fire calls (ELFD received assistance from ELPD for several of these calls), 20 fire alarm calls, two elevator rescues, 26 truck/squad medic assists and six mutual aid calls.”
At least two cars were overturned, including one described as “destroyed in the alley in the 200 block of Cedar Street.”
The City Manager and others are expressing grave disappointment in what developed on Saturday.
“While there were many who celebrated the Spartan win this past weekend in a responsible way, we are disappointed that so many individuals engaged in destructive, dangerous and illegal behavior following the game,” said East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas. “These unlawful behaviors are not only extremely dangerous, but they unnecessarily overburden our critical emergency services on busy game days and overshadow great Spartan victories. Any notions that these unlawful behaviors are acceptable traditions are wrong.”
Mayor Jessy Gregg shared on social media her photos taken while riding along with ELPD on Saturday. She also shared her frustration and disgust with the situation.
On Sunday, Gregg took to Facebook to say, “It’s tempting to write off the arson and the vandalism as high spirits but last night I witnessed a kerosene soaked couch on fire two feet away from a line of parked cars, and another fully engaged fire directly under a powerline, with flames high enough that there was concern for the integrity of the wires….And obviously the car flipping is unacceptable.”
She continued, “I haven’t heard yet if there were any alcohol related fatalities last night, but there were many medical assistance calls for unresponsive and incapacitated persons. We have alcohol poisoning deaths in most years, occasionally even incoming students who don’t survive welcome week.”
This weekend, besides ELPD’s officers being out in force and working overtime, East Lansing received assistance from the Lansing Police Department, MSU Police, Michgian State Police, Meridian Township Police, and the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office.
But they were outnumbered by the tens of thousands of people out on the streets gathering in groups around flames and often toxic smoke.
ELPD Chief Kim Johnson says his department prepared, but “Unfortunately, our peacekeeping efforts had to be shifted to responding to several couch fires in the roadway and large crowds that were blocking streets, which resulted in major safety concerns and traffic issues.”
The situation grew especially dangerous as, according to Johnson, “The number of reported fires also required the 911 dispatch center to have to separate the calls to our police and fire frequencies, resulting in our firefighters having to respond to several fires without police security.”
He describes this as “a very serious safety issue for our emergency responders.”
Now, the police are moving on to identification, arrests, and prosecution.
“We will be seeking the fullest extent of charges for those individuals who have been captured in photos and videos setting fires and causing damage to other people’s property,” said Johnson.
The release advises that “anyone with information, photos and/or videos is encouraged to contact ELPD Sgt. Adam Park at (517) 319-6834.”
UPDATE, NOV. 2, 11:50 AM: Michigan State University issued a statement this morning condemning the destruction and stating that students who were involved will face consequences.
“I want to be clear,” MSU President Sam Stanley wrote, “students who are reported to have violated university policies, which include arson and vandalism, will go through our student conduct process and will face penalties. Off-campus behavior has on-campus consequences when individuals present a clear danger to themselves or others in these settings.”
Stanley also thanked local police forces and the facilities team at MSU for “[making] sure the campus was one of the cleanest and most beautiful in the entire country.” See the full statement here.