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Bring back the paddy wagon at WVU

I fielded dozens of calls and emails on Metronews Talkline this week from listeners who had suggestions for ways the City of Morgantown and WVU could keep students and others from rioting and setting fires like they did last Saturday night after WVU’s victory over Texas.

Some of you suggested the University sponsor its own post-game celebratory bonfire, drawing fans to one area where the crowd could be contained. WVLY’s Howard Monroe, a frequent contributor to Talkline, even suggested “burn zones,” locations around campus where students could gather for their revelry.

I continue to believe this is a bad idea. The issue is not whether students have a place to gather to party and celebrate; the problem is hooliganism by a few who are willing to cross the line into dangerous and unlawful behavior.

A few callers and e-mailers said the National Guard should be called in to provide extra manpower.

That’s not a good idea. The Governor can call out the National Guard after major floods, fires or natural disasters. What’s happening in Sunnyside does not rise to that level. Additionally, we value our civilian government and using the military to enforce the law in a non-emergency is heavy-handed.

And speaking of over-reaction, a few told me the police should use water cannons and rubber bullets. That kind of response would endanger lives and make WVU and Morgantown look like a third world police state.

A couple listeners suggested Coach Dana Holgorsen and a few of the most recognizable players should encourage students to behave themselves.

That’s another weak idea. Those kinds of PR campaigns produce questionable results. In addition, Holgorsen and company have enough on their plates. It’s not the coach’s or team’s responsibility to keep Sunnyside drunks from starting fires.

Here are the best ideas from you.

Bring back the paddy wagon. The Morgantown Police Department used to park a modified school bus in Sunnyside and load up students and others when they broke the law. The city doesn’t have that bus anymore, but the State Police has one; use theirs.

A paddy wagon allows police to make multiple arrests on the spot. Currently, when police make an arrest they have to take the offender off to jail, which removes the officer from the scene. That’s why there were not more arrests last weekend.

Assign more fire marshals to Morgantown. Fire marshals have the authority to make arrests, so they can circulate in the gathering crowds and take the fire starters into custody before a blaze gets out of hand.

Expel offenders from school. WVU Dean of Students Corey Farris promises the University will get tough on those who are caught starting fires or throwing bottles and rocks at the police.

The University needs to follow through on that promise, expelling the worst offenders, and making sure the student body and the public learn of the consequences.

University and City officials insist they have a plan for the next near-riot, but they’re not tipping their hand. That’s fine, as long as they are committed to being proactive.

Hauling the worst offenders into the paddy wagon, and then booting them out of school—and probably out of Morgantown—will make the campus and the town a safer and more civil place for everyone.


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