City police say an estimated 20,000 people were crammed into the off-campus student neighbourhood of Broughdale Avenue at one point Saturday afternoon for fake homecoming, or FoCo, parties.
By the end of it all, 57 people had been treated in hospital for FoCo-related injuries — 28 were transported to hospital between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. alone — and London police had laid 134 provincial offence notices, and handed out more than 3,100 warnings.
All but 13 of the offence notices were handed out to Western students, police said.
“There is a total lack of respect for the community,” said John Pare, London’s police chief, during an afternoon news conference Tuesday alongside officials from London’s fire department, paramedic service and hospitals.
“The irresponsible, and in many situations, dangerous behaviours, resulted in a number of charges under various legislation and dozens of individuals taken to hospital, taxing an already stretched health-care system,” he said.
Western University officials have issued a statement about the street party, saying they’re “disappointed” and that it’s “dangerous” and “extremely disrespectful.”
The crowd that filled Broughdale Avenue on Saturday was much larger than that seen last year, police officials said. An estimated 15,000 people crammed into the neighbourhood around noon, a number that grew to 20,000 less than an hour later.
The London Fire Department said it issued 30 fire code violations for issues including overcrowding or people on rooftops. Fire officials say they anticipate laying between 250 and 300 fire code charges. Six noise charges were issued by city by-law officers.
Among the dozens of injuries reported, paramedics say one person was seriously injured after they fell or jumped from a rooftop.
When it came to the issue of who was responsible for curbing the chaos, Pare didn’t mince words, saying all stakeholders — including Western students and administration — had a role to play, and that no agency would be able to solve the issue on their own.
“We cannot continue to be the sole arbitrators of behaviour,” he said of London police. “We cannot rely on a police-centric approach, nor can we rely heavily on enforcement as the mechanism to control behaviour.”
Although the costs to London’s emergency services were still being calculated, policing costs alone were expected to add up to more than $100,000 — a number that includes the cost of bringing nearly 30 York Regional Police officers in to help.
“I ask that Western administration take steps to hold their students accountable for inappropriate behaviour that is impacting our entire community.”
Pare said they would be working over the next several weeks to examine and develop best strategies to deal with future issues.
FoCo earned its name after Western pushed its sanctioned homecoming event back a month in the wake of homecoming 2016. The hope was that students would be in the middle of midterm exams, and the cooler weather would deter the outdoor partying seen along Broughdale in recent years.
It didn’t have the intended effect. The following year, some Western students protesting the change staged their own faux homecoming that was attended by an estimated 11,000 people. A sanctioned homecoming was held a few weeks later.
This year, Western’s University Student’s Council hosted a six-hour concert nearby to try and gravitate students away from Broughdale, but Pare says Purple Fest only seemed to magnify FoCo-related issues.
“We even had issues when homecoming was at the end of the month, to be quite frank,” Pare said when asked if Western should move its homecoming date back to its original time at the end of September. “The culture that seems to be within post-secondary students in terms of partying on the street, not only an issue here in London but elsewhere as well, I don’t know if that date would even change, but that’s not a decision I make, that’s up to Western.”
Despite staffing in additional resources, all emergency services expressed concern about a reduced capacity to provide services to other areas of the city.
“We put out six additional units, but we also were drawing in from the county as well, so we were stripping resources from Middlesex County to bring in,” said Neal Roberts, chief of Middlesex-London Paramedic Services.
“We brought four inspectors in to deal with the situation right on Broughdale, and the greater Broughdale area,” said Deputy Fire Chief, Jack Burt, noting fire officials expected it would take about a month and a half to gather evidence and identify the owners, tenants, and property managers of addresses set to see fire code charges.
Last year, FoCo celebrations and unsanctioned street parties resulted in police laying over 60 charges and issuing nearly 1,000 warnings, while 37 people were taken to hospital.