During the 2019 Kentucky Derby, approximately 151,000 people visited Churchill Downs. A robust law enforcement presence helped keep crime to a minimum during the event. (Photo by Jim Robertson)
While alcohol-related offenses top the list of infractions, Louisville Metro Police Department officers have their hands full mitigating other potential crimes during the Kentucky Derby.
Among the most serious involves the seedy world of human trafficking.
“People will bring in prostitutes, you have people with money, and it’s the nature of the beast,” LMPD Lt. Brent Routzahn said. “If there is a large event, no matter where it is in the world, you’re going to have this. In South Africa, when they had the FIFA Cup (soccer event), to Super Bowls to the Kentucky Derby, they will bring them in.”
LMPD has a human-trafficking taskforce with a single focus.
“We have a pretty good policy on this, and we rescue women who are being trafficked,” Routzahn said. “There are men who can be trafficked as well, but it’s mostly women. We get them out of that situation. They are vulnerable. We cannot go into details on how they do it, but it is why we do it. We hope to catch a few bad guys and save some people’s lives.”
Largely, LMPD arrests very few people during the Derby, and the reasons are many, Routzahn said.
“The price of the infield tickets is one thing,” he said. “Someone who spends $20 to get in doesn’t care about being thrown out, but those who spend $80 to $100 to get in … well, they’re a little more invested and want to stay.”
Another critical element in keeping the arrest numbers low is the many changes the staff at Churchill Downs have made over the years, according to LMPD Lt. Jill Hume.
“They’ve taken away the party atmosphere that once existed,” she said. “We used to have people who would run across the tops of Porta Pottys, so they’ve taken that opportunity away.”
“We had people just taking target practice, throwing chairs and full beer cans at people running across the Porta Pottys trying to knock them off,” Routzahn interjected. “(Churchill Downs) listened to us when we said, ‘Separate the Porta Pottys.’”
With the party atmosphere mostly neutralized, LMPD can turn its attention to other issues.
“The No. 2 (crime) would be fake tickets,” Routzahn said. “Scalping and pick-pockets would rank third. There are a lot of professional (pick-pocketing) crews that will come in during the Derby.”
A few years back, LMPD scored a win against one of those large groups.
“We broke up a ring out of, I think, Chicago, a few years ago during Derby weekend,” Hume added. “(They) target people who are drunk and not paying attention. They’re in such close quarters that it makes it easy. Then the victim goes to purchase a mint julep, and they don’t have their money.”
LMPD’s goal is to deter crime as much as possible, and to that end, the department has established a team specifically for apprehending pick-pocketers.
This year, pick-pocketers were not a major issue as few, if any, complaints were lodged, according to LMPD Maj. Andrea Brown.
Brown said there were not any complaints reported to LMPD during the 2019 Derby.
No doubt, the Kentucky Derby is a spirited event, and with that said, there are plenty of spirits to be had. However, one must purchase those inside the Churchill Downs venue.
Spectators heading into Churchill Downs will try just about anything to sneak alcohol in with them, according to Louisville Metro Police Lt. Brent Routzahn.
“They have several ways they try to do it,” he said. “I’ve seen them hollow out a loaf of bread and stick a bottle down in that. They’ll also take water bottles and unseal them and put vodka or whatever in it and seal them back up.”
Other popular methods are injecting fruit and tampons, and taping plastic baggies filled with alcohol up and down their legs, Routzahn continued.
“If you have the stuff taped to your body, more than likely, they won’t find it unless they pat you down because you’re acting weird,” he joked.
If one lacks imagination, he or she can visit a website such as Amazon and order items that will help conceal the alcohol, such as soft drink bottles with false bottoms. Either way, security has to keep a sharp lookout for those sneaking in spirits.
This year was no different as officials confiscated countless boxes of booze, many of which were cleverly disguised. One patron attempted to pass off alcohol in a Dr. Pepper bottle, but officials realized the liquid inside the container had more of a sweet tea appearance than that of the soft drink. A more ingenious attempt was baggies of alcohol inside a tarp. However, the baggie failed, and the clear liquid was visible inside the tarp package.
“Whatever you can think of, they’ll do it,” Routzahn said. “It’s amazing some of the stuff they do. Some people will be brazen about it, have it in their pockets, and try to walk in. With those prices (inside of Churchill Downs), people are going to keep trying.”
Once the confiscated alcohol is taken from the patron, it is disposed of, and the spectator is allowed to enter Churchill Downs to enjoy a day of horse racing.