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Posted on Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

An Ann Arbor cop's street-level view of 'March Madness'

By Rich Kinsey

“March Madness” means different things to different people. It depends on your perspective.

Congratulations to the University of Michigan Men’s Basketball team, which had a good season, but unfortunately ended its Mad March early. Though there are many fans and merchants who are disappointed that the “M” hoopsters came up short—somewhere there are police and city officials drawing a quiet sigh of relief.

Sometimes “celebrations” in the streets look more like a riot than a celebration. I’m sure Cedar Fest and Final Four celebrations in East Lansing must make East Lansing, State Police and M.S.U. officers feel the same way. “Mob mentality” takes over and crazy, foolish destructive things start to happen when crowds feel they have anonymity and a cause.

The cause might be celebration or protest, but mix good weather and alcohol as catalysts and the results can be disastrous. My compliments to the Ann Arbor Police Department and the other departments that assisted last Saturday night during the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. There was little property damage and only the normal weekend number of alcohol and testosterone related broken teeth, noses, jaws and cheeks.


The front page of the Ann Arbor News on April 4, 1989, after Michigan won the NCAA National Basketball Championship. News of the campus area street riots were relegated to page A3.

For those of you who have never been downtown during “March Madness” celebrations, I thank you on behalf of the police department. Those nights can be crazy on the streets.

The biggest celebrations I recall for Michigan Men’s Basketball were in 1989 and 1992. Coach Steve Fisher’s team won the National Championship in 1989 and made it to the Final Four in 1992. My recollections do not come from watching games and cheering on the Wolverines, but from the “celebration” turned “civil disturbances” (spelled R-I-O-T) afterward.

In both of those years, South University was a sea of celebrating fans. When the games are over the streets near the bars immediately fill. Students running from the fraternities and sororities across Washtenaw Avenue stop the four lanes as they cross after the game to get near the “action” of the bar area.

Each large celebration brought those that tried to reach the flashing red traffic signal at South University and Church using human pyramids. I’m not sure what the plan was for the top of the pyramid, but we blue suits present did not think pulling down the traffic signal or hanging from electrical wires and cables supporting it was a good idea.

Several times and in different years, I was one of the officers sent to topple the pyramid trying to reach the coveted red beacon. The bases of the pyramid can be persuaded to abandon the cause with a few well places doses of mace or taps on the shins or knees with a baton (“Baton” sounds so much less threatening and more professional than nightstick, stick or club).

In 1989, on the night Michigan won the National Championship, my first assignment was at Forest Court and South University in a car for traffic purposes. The valuable lesson I learned there concerned television lights. If you are an officer in a police car, you do not want a reporter standing outside your driver’s door when his cameraman fires up the spotlight and camera.

The result of this seemingly innocuous act was to call wild revelers to the area. Fans dove onto the hood and trunk deck of the police car to get their faces on camera. It was all “good fun” until the joyous group started rocking my police car. The disconcerting car rocking ended when I grabbed the reporter by the back of his trench coat and inquire if he and his cameraman might be so kind as to turn off the light and go elsewhere.

I was relieved at my post by a Washtenaw County Sheriff’s deputy sent to staff that traffic point. I locked my police car and walked to the command post for re-assignment.

I saw some rather odd sites as I walked. About 20 fellows were around an unmarked television news truck. Several mistook it for a trampoline. Many cars also got used as trampolines if they choose the parking spots on the street right in front of the bars.

I saw a group of kids scampering up a stairway from an alley up to the roof of a building. I told them to get off the steps and come down. Two did, the rest continued up onto the roof, which was filled with people. I considered for a moment going up and ordering them all off, but figured a lone officer telling them to cease and desist would likely get launched off the roof just for fun. Perhaps I would come back to that “job” later with enough personnel to get it done.

While I was walking to the command post for re-assignment I noticed that walking by myself was easier than I thought. No one pays attention—another lesson learned.

When I arrived, the captain now in charge of the street party directed me to Sgt. Jones’ squad. “Where are they Cap?”

“I dunno somewhere near South University and Church.”

On any normal evening it would be easy to spot 6 or 8 officers at an intersection a block away. Not the case in the "March Madness" of 1989. I first came to a fire truck that was under siege.

The Fire Department had responded to fire alarm at a Chinese restaurant. They were trying to keep revelers off their fire truck using available equipment normally adapted for opening doors or extricating people from cars. I assisted them by using my “baton” to “conduct”—pun intended -- the more persistent fans from trying to climb on the truck.

I learned two valuable lessons here. First of all even if you weigh north of 200 lbs. it does no good to step on large flat yellow hoses when a group starts running with it down the street. I learned what inspired the idiom “having the rug (or hose) pulled out from under you.” This momentary lapse in judgment almost landed me on my backside. However with proper training and good balance one might learn to “surf” such a flat hose, but I will leave that to the cast of the Jackass movies to determine.

The other lesson I learned at the “battle of the fire truck,” was that officers should try to stay at crowd level. When the truck started to move, I jumped up on the running boards to coax the last of the hangers-on to let go. That put my helmet-clad noggin above the crowd and made a great target for beer bottles and other projectiles. I jumped off the truck and was no longer a target. I continued my solitary stroll through the crowd to find my squad.

My adventures in crowd “control” will continue next week.

In the meantime along with my weekly advice to “Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors,” I will add -- stay out of East Lansing when the Spartans make it to the Final Four!

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for He also serves as the Crime Stoppers coordinator for Washtenaw County.



Sat, Mar 24, 2012 : 2:12 a.m.

Rich; How did you end up in section 3, underneath the fold this week? That probably explains why you got only six comments. I had to look for your column, and it wasn't easy.


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

I ventured down on that Monday in 1989 with some fiends. As soon as the first beer bottle came toward us we decided it might be a good idea to go home and watch the festivities on CNN. plus, i think we had to get up for school the next day.

Irwin Daniels

Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

I lived in that area and hopefully you will touch a bit on when the tear gas was used (I had to toss most of my wardrobe and some of the arrests that happened. I think if this in NOT mentioned then a big part of the story is missing.


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 1:26 p.m.

I lived at South U and Church during the 90s basketball riots (we had some minor football riots as well). I made the mistake of walking into the crowd one time and it was so packed together shoulder to shoulder I literally crossed the street without my feet touching the ground. Very scary to not be able to control your movements. I got the heck out of there when some punk smashed the window of Pinball Pete's.


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

Continuing your trip down memory lane, if I recall correctly, there were two 1989 "celebrations" - one after the final four victory and one for the national championship. In hindsight, having the network TV stations broadcast from the roof of Good Time Charley's seemed to just encourage the mayhem at South U and Church (can't remember if they were there both nights?). Unlike Western, State and Central at that time, this type of celebration was unusual for Ann Arbor in the 1980's and therefore seemed to catch our police force by surprise. Even with a test run (the final four celebration), the police could not contain the situation after the championship victory. Luckily no one got seriously hurt and those students could then go on to brag to their counterparts across the state and country that they could be just as stupid drunk as any other university town.


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 12:47 p.m.

Out of curiosity I made my way down to S.University that night. I was on a motorcycle and dead sober. It amazed me to watch young people, with a videocamera focused on them, to continue pulling over parking meters, getting on the Chinese restaurant's awning, and rocking cabs until they rolled over! I tapped one kid on the shoulder and said "You're on Candid Camera while I pointed to a large video camera a couple of feet away. "Yea cool" was all he said. I didn't stay long as I thought that I may become a "target" myself. You guys didn't me down there as one more observer. I always wondered what made that pyramid keep falling down. Now I know.


Thu, Mar 22, 2012 : 10:22 a.m.

"Sometimes "celebrations" in the streets look more like a riot than a celebration. . ." This poignant statement transcends March Madness, applying to pro sport championships in the US as well, in basketball, baseball, and football. In Europe, it applies to football (soccer). Thanks for a timely article, Detective Sergeant Kinsey. Glad you survived the "celebrations."