Police plan to keep a close eye on potential Western Homecoming party problems

London Police will be joined by officers from two other forces on Saturday as they prepare for the possibility of large student street parties in neighbourhoods near the university.

Past outdoor parties have overwhelmed police

A sign promoting homecoming outside of Western University gates on Richmond Street in London, Ont. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

Police and city officials say they'll be ready for any wild, out of control parties in near-campus neighbourhoods on Saturday.

In recent years, certain London streets near Western University have been flooded with students on the second-to-last Saturday of September. In some years, police have been overwhelmed by parties and crowds so large that emergency vehicles were unable to reach those in need.

Officers will be keeping a close eye on the crowds, said Const. Sandasha Bough.

"We have operational plans in place with respect to large gatherings," she said. "There will be a visible police presence in the areas adjacent to the university during any gathering, just to ensure safety." 

Problems with street partying began in 2016 when the university moved traditional homecoming from September to October. The intent was to curtail street parties by shifting the event to later in the year when the weather is colder, and students busier with exams. 

However, students rebelled by continuing to party on the September weekend giving the celebration their own name: FoCo or "fake homecoming." 

In some years thousands of revellers — many of them non-Western students — have clogged streets on FoCo. Broughdale Avenue, a residential street close to the university where most houses are rented by students, has become a particular problem. In previous years the dead-end street became clogged with partiers, limiting access for emergency vehicles and creating what police have described as a dangerous situation. 

In the 2019 FoCo party, police were forced to close Richmond Street as crowds began to fill the traffic lanes. This will be the first year in the last two where COVID-19 restrictions aren't in place, opening up the potential for a return to large street parties. 

This year London police will be joined by officers called in from Halton and Hamilton. Official homecoming celebrations have been moved back to September to prevent the rebelious FoCo parties. 

Residents are concerned, calling councillor

Constituents have been contacting Coun. Mariam Hamou, whose ward includes the affected neighbourhoods, concerned about potential problems related to street partying, she said. 

During the 2019 FoCo party about 20,000 revellers clogged Broughdale Avenue, creating an access problem for emergency services that police described as dangerous. (Andrew Lupton/ CBC News)

"I've had calls, I've had emails, they're wondering what's going to happen," she said. "Of course we're prepared to deal with some of the worst things that could happen, but we're hoping and bracing ourselves for the best possible outcome right now."

A task force formed in recent years, with representation from the city, the university, student groups and emergency services, has done a lot of good work preparing for the weekend, Hamou said. 

"We're really stressing safety this year," she said. 

Police will have the ability to issue fines if partying becomes dangerous, she added.