The originally peaceful celebration of the Patriots’ Super Bowl win last Sunday turned violent for some students, enhanced by the announcement of school being cancelled for the next day. The violence included an attempted flipping of a car by multiple students, who were ultimately unsuccessful.
“There was a Ronzio pizza delivery person down around the area of Eddy Hall and some of our responding officers saw a bunch of people trying to tip it over,” said Director of Public Safety Stephen Baker. “And when they saw the police cruisers they left the vehicle alone and the driver was able to get out of there. But [the students] did sustain damage to the vehicle… some side view mirrors were broken off … [the driver] was either in or getting in the car.”
Officers who responded to the group of rioting students were met with attacks mainly using objects from the surrounding area.
“[Our police officers] were pelted with snowballs and blocks of ice, and in one case a female police officer [got] struck in the back of the head with a full beer can,” said Baker.
The office of Public Safety and the officers involved in the night’s events were not expecting this level of violence. In the past, nights of sporting events have remained mostly cheerful.
“We didn’t feel that we had to have any extra number of people here,” said Baker. “We had been in touch with the office of Student Life and they felt it would just be a normal celebration … no problems of this nature.”
In addition to the assaults on the delivery driver’s vehicle and a number of police officers, there were multiple stop signs taken down and lights broken around campus. The combination of broken lights and the ongoing bad weather that the campus has been experiencing creates a public safety issue for students traveling at night.
“We had just done a safety and lighting walk several months ago with members of the Student Senate, and during that walk we point out any lights that are broken or not working and try to get those fixed,” said Baker. “And now this obviously is an added expense that ultimately is paid by either the students or the taxpayers.”
URI’s campus police were helped by the South Kingstown Police Department and the State Police during the riots, who they had contacted ahead of time as a preemptive measure of caution.
Though URI police did not expect to need them to assist against the students, they said they were glad for their help in calming the crowds. In the last two years students have celebrated for both the Red Sox win in the 2013 World Series and for alumni Mat Franco’s America Got Talent 2014 win, but neither event resulted in these types of reactions.
“We had a command post set up down in Butterfield for the Red Sox victory and it was, aside from some fireworks, a very peaceful celebration,” said Baker. “I did not see anything like what happened [for the Super Bowl]… I don’t think anything was broken from what I recall. And other than some small fires being set in the Matt Franco situation, I wouldn’t classify it as a riot.”
Prior to this most recent Super Bowl incident, there had not been any training for campus officers specifically pertaining to violent students celebrations. Now there is discussion on helping better prepare the officers against the students themselves in possible future riots.
“It showed us that we have to, unfortunately, prepare a little better in the future,” said Baker. “Possibly get some equipment, like helmets, to protect our officers… We did have some officers with minor injuries, but it could’ve been worse and if we can give them some equipment and training to prevent that, we will.”