Imagine a city growing from 24,000 to 100,000 overnight. The risk of crime, violence and traffic increases significantly.
Game day at the University of Mississippi is a time when the city more than doubles its size. For the Oxford Police Department, this means preparation.
OPD Officer Sheridan Maiden attended Ole Miss in the 1970s and has been working for the Oxford Police Department for about 11 years. He resides in Oxford with his wife and two young children.
Maiden said Oxford has changed significantly from the 1970s.
“When I was a student here, we didn’t have night games,” he said. “The stadium didn’t even have lights. All games of the Mississippi schools were played in Jackson, which had the only football field with lights at the time.”
Maiden and the OPD finalized a game day action plan in July. For every home game, they have a different agenda outlining everything they need to know, such as weather reports, Square detail, the number of airplanes flying in, and a map with the routes out-of-towners use to come into town.
The OPD works with the National Weather Service and has a live link showing constant weather updates. They have to know what to do if a tornado or thunderstorm starts during a game.
They also work with the OUT bus service, the university, the Oxford Fire Department, FBI and hospitals.
There are cameras everywhere on the Square and on campus to ensure safety. During games, there is a department head from every entity watching.
“Everyone who touches the city is in that room,” said Maiden. There is no need to call a certain entity if someone is already there. There are also IT guys in case anything happens to the cameras.
In the police department, there are officers watching the Square cameras 24/7, which “…constantly provide services to the the city,” said Maiden.
The “Square detail” plan for every game outlines which officers will be on the Square and what their job and location will be.
There is a procedure for everything, including missing children. “Missing child procedure differs from an abducted child procedure,” said Maiden.
OPD has a binder full of different outcomes and problems, along with procedures to fix them. For example, when celebrities come to announce at the games, there is a certain plan to get them in and out safely.
Before each game, the OPD brings in bomb dogs to sniff out the stadium. “We bring in dogs from various police departments around the area so the dogs don’t get too wore out,” Maiden said. “We want to make sure they are doing their job.”
The OPD studies traffic patterns to determine the time people come in. If there is a home game against Arkansas, the OPD notifies Batesville of predicted traffic. If it is against Memphis, they notify Holly Springs. And if they play Alabama, the OPD notifies Tupelo.
Highway 6 is a big issue when a flood of people come to Oxford. The OPD sets up constant patrol to regulate traffic. There is always an officer directing.
Maiden said every year, people try to park on Highway 6, and every year, they are directed somewhere else. Due to the constant construction of buildings on and off campus, directing traffic can pose as an issue for OPD
To ensure safety on the Square, the OPD educates the businesses. OPD Police Chief Joey East said ensuring safety on the Square has been a big problem, but they are working to fix it.
“You have people coming out of the bar, onto the streets, and you have cars trying to figure out where to go,” East said. “It is just going to result in an accident.”
There is a safe site tent across from Funky’s where officers and fire department officers are. They are there to provide a “safe site” for people on the Square. They can find taxis, call Ubers, or simply talk to someone if they feel uncomfortable in a situation.
The OPD plans some improvements for the new year. “We are looking at beefing up officers on the Square and setting up more locations where they can be,” said Maiden. “Officers really have to know areas of the city so they can get around easily.”
After every home game weekend, the OPD holds post-action meetings pertaining to what they did, how they can do it better, and if any problems arose. There are always changes to the procedures to ensure efficiency and safety.
“It’s better to be proactive than reactive,” said Maiden. “If you’re reactive, you’ve already lost.”
The OPD hosts a radio spot early in the mornings to discuss traffic and parking for the day. They have an active Twitter account used to notify people of any changes or safety warnings.
“If it is a big game, we start the Tweets on a Tuesday to prepare,” Maiden said. “If it is an average game, we start on a Thursday.”
Oxford grows each year, and the OPD must adapt to the changes.