For many area residents the thought of Halloween reminds us of kids in costume, trick or treating, and scary movies replayed on cable TV. For many Madison Police Officers, thoughts of Halloween remind us of downtown, and the festivities that take place along the six blocks of State Street. Halloween weekend 2014 has passed, and we at the Madison Police Department take a collective sigh of relief.
Recently we ran across an old Madison Police Annual Report composed by Police Chief Henry C. Baker for the Mayor, Common Council, and the Police and Fire Commission. In the report he states in part, "This was the first Halloween in this City for many years that boys and young men did not think it necessary to a proper observance of time to destroy sidewalks, horse blocks, fences, etc. to such an extent as to impose on the City $500 to $800 expense in making repairs." Chief Baker went on to thank the Madison Police Officers for their vigilance in preventing malicious vandalism. This report was written in 1903. Clearly, Halloween revelry in Madison is nothing new.
Within the past decade we have seen highs and lows during Halloween celebrations. The disturbances and sometimes riotous type behavior which occurred during 2001-2005 was frankly a disgrace to those who participated in repeated acts of destruction and criminal behavior. Hopefully, those days are behind us. It is important to acknowledge the other City agencies, community partners, and law enforcement agencies who worked with the Madison Police to help turn a 'free for all" into a well managed and organized event. With the support provided, Frank Productions have been able to rebrand this annual party into the Freakiest event we know today. Approximately 50,000 people gathered on State Street during Freakfest last weekend. There were no "significant" incidents reported and the party was much more representative of a Halloween celebration suited for our downtown area.
In as much as this event has improved, we have more work to do. Over the last several years, the police presence on State Street has been drastically reduced while still maintaining an adequate presence. In addition to all the support agencies involved, the Madison Police Department still designated almost 200 police officers to work at and around State Street. The Dane County Sherriff, Fitchburg Police and State Fair Police Mounted Unit contributed another 65 more. Why are these resources still necessary for what is commonly believed to be a safe and well-managed event?
Simply put, there remains a culture of alcohol abuse often associated with both Halloween as well as other State Street celebrations year round. We remember recent history and are keenly aware that a large crowd, in an environment where many have been consuming alcohol, often leads to flashpoints and serious problems. This year, seven people were taken to jail, while 44 others were cited and released. Most infractions were alcohol related. There were also eleven runs to the Dane County Detoxification Center by MPD on Saturday night. Officers likely helped save the lives of two extremely intoxicated people at this event – one young man, one young woman, both of whom were found unconscious due to alcohol and unable to protect their own airways. UW-Madison Police publicly reported numerous alcohol violations on their properties over the weekend as well. For these reasons, we feel it is important to maintain the current level of police presence to ensure a safe and orderly event.
We are appreciative of those well-behaved Halloween revelers who enjoyed a fun night on State Street. Like Chief Baker did in 1903, I too, would like to thank the police officers who worked at this event. They made a huge difference in addressing dangerous behavior early on and eliminating the opportunity for injury to attendees as well as property damage. We look forward to another successful event next year.
This post was authored by Captain Tom Snyder