Demons be gone
Although partying crowds were drastically lighter and more subdued this Halloween, arrests were up, due mostly to a much tougher stance taken by university police. Even though a Chico Police Department press release stated that there were “no more people walking downtown and in the west side than are seen on a normal Friday night,” police still saw fit to arrest 111 people, mostly for being drunk in public. Last year, when an estimated 5,000 revelers took to the streets, there were only 88 arrests.
This is the second year in a row that the city and local police have taken a “zero tolerance” approach to partying downtown on Halloween, a local tradition that dates back at least 15 years. On Halloween 2001, a crowd of about 15,000 young people, many from out of town, spooked city officials and residents alike, as there were four stabbings and numerous assaults reported that night. After spending an estimated $200,000 in the last two years on beefed-up police patrols and anti-Halloween media campaigns, the city seems to have quashed the rowdy tradition, at least for now.
But Chico’s police agencies say they are not going to sit back and enjoy their success. Instead, both Chico PD Lt. Mike Weber and Chico State University Police Chief Leslie Deniz said law enforcement agencies have realized that events such as Halloween, along with St. Patrick’s Day and Labor Day, are not so much isolated incidents as spikes in a continuing problem with alcohol abuse and a party-’til-you-puke culture among college students. Both say they hope to use the momentum generated by the past two Halloweens to step up enforcement of rowdy Westside events.
“In past years, the CSU, Chico Police Department has not really had the approach of enforcement,” Deniz said. “We had been very much staying back, and we’re not going to do that anymore. We are establishing that line in the sand,” Deniz said. Her department was recently granted about $300,000 from the federal Department of Homeland Security, which it will use to hire four more officers and three additional supervisors. On Halloween, about 50 CSU officers from across the state helped police the campus area.
Lt. Weber credited much of his department’s success to the support and prayers of several local churches, which helped feed the approximately 500 officers and volunteers deployed for the night, along with forming roving prayer groups that walked around the city beseeching their lord for a peaceful All Hallows Eve. Weber said the department was so impressed with the church groups’ assistance that top brass is seriously considering adding a “faith command” to the department’s command structure.
“I envision where, when we have these major events… we are going to be involved with churches and congregations that are combating these problems through support and through prayer. They are doing it now already, and we would just like to formalize that.”
Weber also adopted a somewhat religious tone in articulating his vision for dealing with issues in student neighborhoods, which he said were responsible for diverting resources away from problems in other neighborhoods.
“I see [police] as being like shepherds,” he said. “We need to shepherd people away from bad situations. There’s a lot of violence going on over there—we just had an officer hospitalized when someone in a crowd threw a bottle and hit him in the head. It doesn’t mean we’re going to kill partying or fun or anything like that. It’s about safety.”
Weber attributed the higher number of arrests this year to a “strict[er] enforcement [policy] among campus police. But he agreed that smaller crowds generally make it easier for police to make arrests.
Strangely, Chico seems to be at the head of a global assault on eerie nocturnal celebrations. In Santa Barbara’s Isla Vista community, a college neighborhood where young people from all over Southern California have converged for years on Halloween, police have taken a similar approach to Chico’s, putting up barricades and maintaining a high-profile presence on the street. But there, despite a media campaign that declared “The party’s over” (sound familiar?), about 50,000 people still showed up, prompting police to arrest 70 (98 over the course of the weekend) and issue 174 citations, according to UC Santa Barbara’s Daily Nexus.
In San Francisco’s Castro District, which has long hosted a raucous Halloween party, 250,000 people were policed by a few more than 300 cops. About 20 arrests were made, and despite one non-fatal shooting city officials declared the party a success, as many said it was far safer and better organized than in past years. This was the first year that San Francisco banned alcohol at the event.
Cold weather and rain across the state may have contributed to smaller crowds and less activity at many events. Outside of California, police in college communities struggled with their own out-of-control Halloween parties. In Madison, Wis., about 200 police battled a crowd of about 5,000 that pelted officers with rocks and bottles after a late-night concert broke up. Only 13 arrests were made, apparently due to the volatile nature of the crowd. In Athens, Ohio, Police Chief Rick Mayer called for a Chico-style crackdown next year after crowds there lit fires, flipped cars and assaulted city workers. Local news reports stated that about 100 revelers were “arrested or ticketed.”
Globally, the city of Moscow showed its solidarity with Chico by banning Halloween celebrations at schools, calling the pagan-rooted holiday an expression of "a cult of death," one not appropriate for a secular society. The Russian Orthodox Church ironically agreed, saying, "You cannot associate with evil forces [even] in jest." And in France, where Halloween became a popular (if heavily contrived and marketed) phenomenon just five years ago, retailers this year have turned their backs on the Anglo holiday, with many citing over-commercialization and a Catholic backlash against celebrating ghosts and goblins.