Halloween’s controlled chaos
CN&R intern Nick Dobis is on the case
As a cool wind blew through the fall foliage on the Chico State campus on the Thursday before Halloween, students slowly trickled out of the halls, most of them ending their week of study. This scene is common on campus each Thursday, but this particular day seemed like the calm before the storm, since Halloween’s night of craziness was to fall on a Saturday this year.
Students and police had been counting down the days until the weekend. University Police Chief Eric Reichel sent e-mails to students telling them to expect a large police presence, including the addition of the California State University Critical Response Unit, which is composed of some 30 officers from other CSU schools. Meanwhile, the Chico Police Department braced itself for a long weekend made longer by the university’s furlough day on Monday.
For years, a decade even, Halloween has been characterized as a drunken student debauch. But is there more to it than just drinking? Are students really the source of all the chaos on Halloween? This reporter decided to find out for himself what it meant to “keep it Chico,” as the slogan urged—that is, limit the onslaught of out-of-towners and keep the Halloween party local.
Dressed as a 1920s reporter, I headed out Saturday night and immersed myself in the costumed masses. My first stop was a house party off of Cherry Street. Through an entryway sticky from spilled beer, thumping dance music tried to compete with an overwhelming clamor. The house was nearly splitting its seams with people, while police cruisers slowly circled the area like prowling sharks.
In a living room like a scene from a Hunter S. Thompson acid trip, a circus of costumed revelers laughed and danced beneath mesmerizing lights and tapestries. The most curious aspect of this party, however, was its lack of alcohol.
“Yeah, the beer ran out a while ago, but it doesn’t seem like anyone is ready to leave,” said the slovenly dressed Dude (from The Big Lebowski). “But I think that’s pretty sweet. Half the fun this weekend is seeing everyone’s costumes and being around each other.”
As the minutes passed and the party swelled, I found myself pinned uncomfortably next to Wonder Woman, who was looking far from wonderful. I decided to get out of her puking range and wove through the crowd and out of the house. Destination: West Fifth and Ivy streets.
Perched like a Buddhist monk atop a fire hydrant in the center of the beating heart of south campus, I watched a stream of costumes flow from all corners of the intersection, causing impatient drivers to honk. Police on towering horses clopped across the asphalt and barked out orders, preventing the throngs of partiers from clotting on the street corners.
I sat motionless in the eye of the hurricane, enlightening myself with the pureness of the controlled chaos. Most people ignored me, but Dorothy and her stuffed dog, Toto, stopped out of curiosity and talked about what Halloween in Chico meant to her.
“I think a lot of us still have that little kid inside who gets excited about Halloween,” she said. “There is a lot of drinking, and bad shit does go down on this weekend, but I think most of the students are out to have a good time, not start trouble with the cops.”
She had it mostly right. According to the CPD’s final count, police made 137 arrests between Thursday afternoon and early Sunday morning. The majority were for public intoxication, though police picked up several people each day on other charges ranging from assault and battery and suspicion of DUI to drug-related activity and weapons violations. The arrests included 31 Chico State students and 17 Butte College students. Sixty-six arrestees—about half the total—were non-students, and 59 did not live in Chico.
Chico Police Lt. Mike O’Brien confirmed that a majority of the arrests were made in the South Campus area. The more violent crimes, however, were committed outside of that area and outside downtown.
“Considering the marked increase in violent activity, we did very well this year,” O’Brien said.
After talking with Dorothy, I left the fire hydrant and headed home. I slowly made my way against the endless current of laughter and excitement. The police presence was high, as warned, but I personally didn’t witness any arrests or disrespect to officers.
When I got home I sat on my porch for a while and thought that, if the students “keep it Chico,” Halloween in this town really can remain special and safe for everyone.