Fighting: a common sight at football games

Beneath the full moon of a big Texas sky, amidst the smells of hot dogs and popcorn, the sounds of the band and the shouts of cheerleaders, a crowd pulsates with excitement as they watch their football heroes compete under the Friday night lights in a long-standing Texas high school tradition: Friday night football.But just outside the stadium, high school students shed sweat and blood for a different reason: These students came to fight.

James Dunnam, the youth division case coordinator for the Fort Worth Police Department, said there were roughly 957 juvenile offenses in Fort Worth in the past two months. The number of offenses increases at the start of the school year, he said.

“The juvenile crime unit makes more arrests and writes more citations than all the Fort Worth police departments on all shifts,” Dunnam said.

Fort Worth mostly sees fights without weapons involving gang members, Dunnam said, a lot of them at football games on Friday nights.

Lt. Dean Sullivan, public information officer and spokesperson for the Fort Worth Police Department, said Fort Worth did have some fights at high school football games in 2004, but nothing of significance.

Pat McGhee, assistant director of safety and security for the Fort Worth Independent School District, said when Fort Worth started using stronger security measures, it saw a decline in criminal activity surrounding sporting events. Since 1994, Fort Worth ISD screens with metal detectors at every sporting event.

“We’re as tough as at the airport,” McGhee said. “We have very little criminal activity inside the stadiums.”

Sullivan said the increased security measures have significantly decreased the propensity for violent incidents, particularly involving weapons.

Dunnam, however, says it’s the area outside the stadium that poses a problem.

“A lot of crimes at sporting events are fights, mostly between rival gangs who are not participating in the sports, just watching,” Dunnam said.

Sullivan said incidences involving gangs at football games are infrequent.

“Gangs don’t have a big stronghold in sports activity – that’s not their catalyst for existence,” he said. “Over the last few years, we have had incidents following football games off site, isolated incidents of violence between rival teams.”

Sullivan said Dunnam’s use of the term “gang fight” referred to the legal definition, an altercation involving seven or more people, not the public’s idea of a fight between two rival gang groups.

“Most are inner school rivalries that exist in Fort Worth ISD, and elsewhere, between opposing teams,” he said. “Some have spilled over and turned into physical activity resembling riots.”

While McGhee says this is not necessarily the case at schools near the TCU campus, including R. L. Paschal High School, he does admit that fights occasionally take place.

Dunnam said fighting in parking lots is reported most often, and some of the biggest problems have been at Farrington Field, where Paschal plays some of its games.

“I don’t have access to the parking lots and things – I’m in charge of metal detector operations,” McGhee said. “I’m not going to say fights outside the stadiums don’t happen, but they’re not a common occurrence.”

Assistant principals at Arlington Heights, Paschal and Southwest high schools all said they had not seen any incidences of fighting at their football games this season.

Nicholas Fernandez, a senior at Paschal, said he has heard about non-violent arguments between Paschal football fans and fans from rival Arlington Heights High School but has not witnessed any fights in the two years he has attended Paschal.

Carter Babb, a sophomore at Arlington Heights, said at the few games he has attended, he never witnessed any fights but has heard of a few not involving gang members.

However, Jerrell Lockhart, another Paschal senior, said he heard about a non-gang-related fight at Paschal’s scrimmage against Crowley High School, located at Crowley on Aug. 25.

Lauren Schainhorst, also a senior at Paschal, said most fights that take place at games don’t go beyond verbal arguments.

“It’s just stupid little stuff,” Schainhorst said. “People in our own stands make comments that upset other cliques.”

Fort Worth police officer Patrick “P.A.” Delano says fights are not the only criminal activity surrounding high school football. Delano says that during the three- to four-hour time span of a North Crowley High School football game, the police receive two to three calls for car vandalism by juvenile spectators.

J.C. Williams, the assistant chief of the TCU Police Department, said there is little deterrent to juvenile crime because penalties for juveniles are far less severe than for adults. Many times offenders are taken into custody and then returned to their parents, he said.

“The juvenile court system is real quick,” Williams said. “A slap on the hand and they’re back out again. Unfortunately, some of them have been arrested eight or ten times on the same charges. It’s a sort of revolving door.”

Some high schools, including the San Antonio Independent School District and the White Settlement Independent School District, have taken measures to reduce crime on their campuses by employing their own police departments.

Fort Worth ISD doesn’t have its own police department, but through the School Security Initiative, Dunnam says, at least one police officer is stationed at every middle and high school in Fort Worth city limits.

McGhee said 71 football games will be played in Fort Worth this season. The games are played at three central sites: Farrington Field, Clark Stadium and Handley Field. McGhee said the number of police officers at each game varies from eight to 20, depending on the site and who is playing.

“When we see the match-ups for the game, we know the crowd, and then determine based on that,” he said.

Dunnam said officers at the games supervise the metal detectors, operated by school officials, and patrol the parking lots as well as the stadium.

Williams said TCU does not have a problem with fights at football games.

“TCU’s events are so much larger than high school events,” Williams said. “Our resources and police presence are so strong. A lot of your public schools can’t really afford the resources necessary to cover parking lots, as well as inside and outside the stadiums, and control those areas the way we can.”

Williams also said the inaccessibility of many of the parking lots at TCU keep fights and other criminal activity from occurring near the stadium.

“We have donor parking, which sometimes costs $1,000 to $5,000 a space, and they’re all restricted access parking lots,” he said. “In TCU’s case, those parking lots are located right around the stadium itself, so we’ve got gate attendants and you have to have a pass to actually get into many of the lots that surround TCU during the event.”

Even with a large number of high school students from across the city attending TCU sporting events, especially football games, Williams said, the university has not had any problems with fights or criminal mischief associated with the high school students’ attendance.

“I don’t know if it’s because of the environment they’re in, but we just haven’t had incidences related to them,” Williams said. “When you have older college students there, younger high school students tend to be on better behavior for some reason, maybe because they want to look cool or they don’t want to seem immature. We haven’t had them cause any conflicts with our students.”

This variety of juvenile criminal activity is not confined to juvenile settings such as high school sporting events.

J.C. Williams, assistant chief of TCU Police, said there is a problem with students from Paschal skipping school and coming onto the TCU campus to break into vehicles.

Williams said students from Paschal have “definitely been a problem” due to the close proximity of the high school’s and TCU campus.

“Some of them have been arrested more than once, two or three times, for misdemeanor crimes like burglary of motor vehicles,” Williams said. “It’s really made us look at fencing and security in different peripheral parking lots around the campus.”

When this reporter called Paschal High School for response, she was directed to McGhee, who indicated there had been no problems with Paschal.

Williams said that, in response to the vandalism and burglaries, TCU has had to change its parking lot structure, including plans to convert the Sav-On lot on Berry Street into a parking lot for commuter students that will be entirely fenced in with a security guard on location. Shuttle service will run to and from the lot. Such changes are a direct result of this type of campus crime, which is the second most predominant crime on campus and primarily committed by juveniles, namely Paschal students, Williams said.

“Burglary of motor vehicles is pretty much a juvenile crime,” he said.

Motor vehicle theft often provides quick cash for after-market stereos and other items. Juveniles also tend to target chrome wheels and other amenities, so they are the ones committing those types of crime, Williams said.

Cars in college campus parking lots also tend to have backpacks, cell phones, pagers, etc., he said. They tend to have a little bit more money than local high school parking lots. Juveniles predisposed to commit crimes are looking for crimes of opportunity, so college parking lots with their vast amount of goodies provide a good location for them.

Williams also said burglary of motor vehicles is primarily a juvenile crime because there is very little deterrent. Though TCU only has about two or three arrests a year, Williams said, the penalties for juveniles are much less than for adults. Burglary of a motor vehicle, previously a felony, has been reduced to a misdemeanor, making it difficult to address this type of juvenile crime, he said.

Many times offenders are taken into custody and then returned to their parents. Even when sent to a detention center, Williams said, the juvenile may spend a few hours there before then being released to the care of a parent or guardian, whereas an adult will receive hard, long-term sentences.

Unlike high school sporting events, juveniles arrested at TCU rarely enter that revolving door as a result of activity taking place at sporting events.

“Burglaries of motor vehicles don’t necessarily take place on game days, but when school might normally be in session,” Williams said. “That is the time when juveniles are truant and when we have the most vehicles on campus. Commuters and others are all on campus in all the lots.