Cops hope to spook Halloween partiers

Chico police are busily preparing for what they hope will be a decisive shutdown of the city’s long-held tradition of unsanctioned and often out-of-control Halloween street parties. This year, it’s almost as if the cops are throwing their own party that night, and the yahoos and drunks who usually turn the downtown and south campus neighborhood into orgiastic free-for-alls have been strenuously uninvited.

And, while city officials say they’re not buying the police any extra party favors for this year’s crackdown, they are making a few timely purchases, such as updating the force’s stock of gas masks and buying a number of extra-long crowd-control batons.

Chico Police Capt. Mike Maloney said the army surplus gas masks currently used by the force are considered outdated under Occupational Health and Safety Administration guidelines and would be replaced before Halloween. Maloney also confirmed a tentative plan to add to the force’s supply of 36-inch batons with an unspecified number of new, 42-inch batons.

That plan was briefly questioned by City Manager Tom Lando, who at first said he didn’t think the police needed them. But Lando changed his mind the next day, when he found out that Chico police had always used the longer batons for crowd-control but had been forced to borrow them in the past from other agencies.

“That purchase has not gone through,” Lando initially said. “We don’t want to raise any red flags about police beating people up or anything like that. We’ve got enough concerns without that happening.”

Later, Lando amended the statement to say the batons are “standard equipment that a department like ours ought to have.”

Standard or not, the longer batons, heavy police presence and ready-to-rumble attitude the city has broadcast in the past few months are sure to change the character of the event. In keeping with the City Council’s controversial decision to put an end to the downtown Halloween festivities, potential partygoers have been on notice by a series of newspaper and TV ads that send a blunt message: “The party is over.”

The ads, which feature footage of arrests made at previous Halloween parties—last year there were four stabbings, 36 assaults (two sexual), 55 people arrested for public drunkenness, two-dozen car accidents and various acts of vandalism—were created by Barnett, Cox and Associates from San Luis Obispo at a cost of about $13,000. In the past, the city has spent between $50,000 and $100,000 just to police the event each year.

At an Oct. 8 meeting, several student government officials at Chico State, even as they worried about the politics of doing so, urged the Associated Students president not to sign a letter drafted in the name of the City Council, feeling the message warning students away from Halloween revelry was too negative and anti-student. “This screams about how much the city does not like us,” said Fay Roepcke, the A.S. director of legislative affairs. “It’s very insulting.”

Maloney said the police plan to enforce five DUI checkpoints surrounding downtown, as well as several glass-container checkpoints throughout downtown and the south campus neighborhood. Police have also enlisted the help of Butte County sheriff’s deputies and the California Highway Patrol, as well as officers from Sacramento, Tehama, Glenn and Colusa counties. About 450 officers will participate, up from around 150 last year.

"In years past, our directive has been to manage the event," Maloney said. "This year is different." If at all possible, he said, police would like to simply "make the event go away."