Right to party on Halloween apparently not worth fighting for
All those months of planning, fretting and threatening would-be troublemakers seem to have paid off for the city, which celebrated one of the most humdrum Halloweens in recent memory.
According to Chico police Lt. Mike Weber, attendance was down, arrests were up and, in contrast to years past, hardly anyone was hurt among the roving crowds of costumed partygoers. Though he said the city still has a way to go in its goal to be able to police the holiday using only local resources, an obviously relieved Weber said Friday that community help and a heavy police presence seemed to have warded off the criminal element that has marred previous celebrations.
“It seems to have been a success in terms of reducing the crowd size,” he said, adding that although police did spot a few gang members in the crowd, “there was not the element I’ve seen in the past.”
Police estimate last Thursday night’s crowd at about 5,000, about a third of last year’s crowd. Though there were slightly more arrests and a few more service calls than last year, there were also less violence and less congestion than in the past, police said.
Mostly, groups of college-age kids in goofy and often risquà outfits cruised down Fifth Street, gawking at costumes and picking up dates. A few talked on cell phones as they made the rounds, and more than one commented that they were either going home early or trying to “find a place to kick it, [because] everyone has to pee and there’s no bathrooms.”
At Fifth and Ivy, the traditional epicenter of unsanctioned Chico street partying, crowds were relatively light. While nearly everyone was intoxicated to some degree, the mood of the crowd remained festive and for the most part docile. More than 400 officers from agencies across the North State were on hand to police the crowd, some from horseback, many on foot, and others from motorcycles or patrol cars. While phalanxes of police from as far away as Sacramento walked the streets in groups of six to 10 officers, a CHP helicopter buzzed overhead, shining its light on potential trouble spots.
Police arrested 88 people, most for being drunk in public, and recorded six DUI arrests. In contrast to last year’s four stabbings and 36 assaults, only one stabbing was reported, and that wound, the result of a fight at Third and Ivy, was considered non-life threatening. There were a few fights but only one arrest for battery, and no sexual assaults had been reported by Monday.
Despite press reports to the contrary, a bomb threat called in to a TV station Halloween night and reported immediately to police turned out to be a hoax, said Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who was downtown that night touring the scene. The device, a six-inch capped steel pipe filled with sand, had been fitted with a fuse that had been partially burned, Ramsey said. Butte county bomb experts “disrupted” the phony device at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds after finding it in the pocket of a Dumpster behind the Fifth and Ivy market.
City Manager Tom Lando declined an opportunity to gloat about the success of the council’s Halloween crackdown, saying that he was “very appreciative” of the students, volunteers, police and community members who helped to downsize this year’s party.
“I was obviously concerned about what was going to happen,” Lando said. “In retrospect, the P.R. campaign was very well done, though I have to admit I was concerned at the time about the hard edge of the message.”
Lando said the city and county probably spent about $60,000 each to police Halloween, as they normally do. The city also spent about $40,000 on an ad campaign to warn people against going downtown that night. The CHP, which lent the city about 220 officers for the night, tried to minimize overtime for the night by adjusting officers’ shifts, said CHP Sgt. Dave Vicars. The only major unusual expense incurred by the state is likely to be the 50-60 rooms at the Holiday Inn that out-of-town officers were provided at a reduced rate, Vicars said.
For future events, Lando said he hoped something could be worked out between the city, Chico State University and Butte College whereby a city-sponsored event could provide an alternative to the raucous and often dangerous street parties that college-age kids end up participating in.
“We will have to continue to work very hard to get the message out that we want to keep events local and not have 30,000 people show up," he said.