Downtown turns ghost town
It looks like it will be business as usual for this year’s Halloween festivities in downtown Chico—a smattering of costumed goons and a whole lot of law enforcement.
Police officials say that thanks to the crackdown over the last three years by the city and various law enforcement agencies, Halloween in 2005 will require less man power. They insist, however, that officers will bring the hammer down on those who decide to cause problems.
Chico Police Sgt. Dave Barrow said officers from as far away as Modesto will come to help out and that there will also be DUI checkpoints along the perimeter of downtown.
And like last year, Barrow said law enforcement will be on duty all weekend, even though the holiday falls on a Monday.
However, the operation will be scaled back from previous years, Barrow said, explaining that it was nearly impossible to even enter Chico without hitting a DUI checkpoint in 2003.
This year there will be approximately 160 uniformed officers on duty, quite a drop from the 250 officers that flooded downtown last Halloween, including officers on foot and horseback.
Barrow said he expects small groups of people downtown, but that the goal has been to keep large crowds from becoming uncontrollable like in years past. Last year there were an estimated 1,000 people who took to the streets compared to 15,000 in 2001.
“As long as they conduct themselves in a respectful way, that’s acceptable behavior,” he said.
Barrow also said police efforts have been simplified due to the university’s recent crackdown on the party culture, in particular the local Greek system, explaining that service calls to rowdy parties usually peak well into October.
This year’s Halloween ad campaign has also taken on a less ominous tone. Replacing television ads featuring clips of police rounding up drunken partiers while a menacing voice warns people stay away from the west side and downtown are friendlier ads depicting costumed children trick-or-treating as Chico Mayor Scott Gruendl drops candy in their bags and thanks those who cooperated in making Halloween safe again.
“The ad campaign has a softer approach since we feel we’ve been successful in bringing Halloween to a safe and sane holiday,” Barrow said.
Last year there were 47 Halloween arrests, down from 112 in 2003. And while Barrow said the ads have been toned down, they still get the point across that the city will continue its zero-tolerance stance on glass and public intoxication.
Another version of the ad shows Associated Students president Thomas Whitcher, flanked by two students wearing sweatshirts with Greek letters, handing candy out to the children with the same message.
Whitcher, who met with city and university police this week, said while some newer students are disappointed about missing out on one of Chico’s traditions, most understand why police have stepped up its presence. And in an effort to lure students from downtown, the A.S. will again host its annual Halloween Fright Fest event featuring comedians as well as a midnight breakfast, which last year brought more than 700 students to the BMU Auditorium.
While downtown will likely be a ghost town this year, one group of students will again conduct surveys for a Halloween research project headed by Chico State University political science professors Lori Beth Way, Matthew Thomas and Rick Ruddell.
For the past three years, volunteers have conducted thousands of interviews in the downtown area as well as at Chico State, gathering information about participants’ views on safety and their feelings toward police.
Ruddell said student volunteers survey more than 800 students each Halloween and that the survey will continue over the next two years before the information is compiled and added to the Campus Law Enforcement Journal.
“Our studies show that folks are not having as much fun, and are not spending as much money as expected,” Ruddell said. “But they do say police are doing a good job.”