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Indiana leaders work to avoid repeat of party that turned into riot

| Monday, July 14, 2014, 10:52 p.m.

As the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency prepares to release its report on a rowdy pre-St. Patrick's Day party four months ago in Indiana Borough that resulted in several criminal charges and numerous citations, area officials are trying to avoid a repeat.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania and local and county leaders formed a group last month focused on thwarting disruptive gatherings, or responding to them if they erupt, according to group President James B. Struzzi III of the Indiana County Chamber.

The formation of the group is a direct response to March 8 student-planned “IUPatty's” revelry that taxed emergency systems, Struzzi said.

“We are interested in seeing PEMA recommendations, but we want to show the community we are moving forward,” Struzzi said.

“I believe everyone feels there definitely was a spirit of cooperation in an attempt to make Indiana a better and safer place, and that was evident in that every major player in the area was represented at the meeting,” Struzzi said.

In March, Indiana University President Michael Driscoll and county commissioners asked PEMA to assist in evaluating the response before, during and after the events on borough streets and on campus.

“Working together as a community, we will define steps and solutions to reduce the problems associated with these types of incidents,” Driscoll said of last month's meeting with other community leaders.

Hundreds of college-age people, including IUP students, took to the streets on March 8 for the party.

State, borough and university police subsequently responded to dozens of incidents, including a large brawl that was videotaped and uploaded to YouTube. One borough officer suffered a broken hand during the weekend.

A group of about 400 on South Seventh Street antagonized police who were trying to disperse the crowd, forcing officers to use pepper spray on some revelers.

Borough police used social media to identify and arrest four men and one juvenile in connection with the videotaped fistfight on South Seventh Street. Three of those facing felony riot charges are IUP students. The others are from Aliquippa.

Officials have said many of those who caused problems were not IUP students. Those students who were charged by police faced the IUP disciplinary process, according to university officials.

In anticipation of weekend parties, IUP officials had advised students to behave responsibly. About 350 students assisted in a cleanup of the town the morning after the festivities.

Last month's meeting included leaders from emergency management, law enforcement, education, communications, prevention and local and county government. Struzzi said in-depth discussions occurred during the two-hour meeting, resulting in several steps for preventing incidents, preparing for large events and responding to unexpected public disruptions.

The group will subsequently focus on issues such as using social media to monitor and anticipate similar events and consulting psychology professionals on methods to curtail rowdy crowds. Struzzi said the group plans to meet monthly.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or at ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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