"Mob mentality gone wild" were the words a newspaper article used to describe the 2002 riot during Madison, Wisconsin's annual Halloween party on State Street.
That year, drunken costumed revelers harassed police, threw bottles, overturned bicycle racks and vandalized stores along the street, which runs between the State Capitol building and the University of Wisconsin (UW) — Madison campus.
Reports state it took more than 100 police officers armed with tear gas to finally disperse the crowd, estimated at approximately 65,000 people.
Flash forward to the 2006 Halloween celebration on State Street, and people witnessed a different outcome.
The event, now city-sanctioned and dubbed Freak Fest, ended on a far more positive note. At 1:30 a.m., loud speakers along the fenced-in street heralded the celebration's close and instructed revelers to begin exiting.
While some individuals began dancing and jumping around, chanting "Ole! Ole" and "USA" as officers moved into the area and directed people toward the exits, the 29th annual event ended as peacefully as it had begun.
Capt. Carl Gloede of the Madison Police Department attributes the event's positive conclusion to changes made by officials as a result of the violent and wild nature of previous Halloween affairs.
"It was a combination of efforts by all city agencies and the law enforcement partners who worked together that resulted in a safe event for all," he says.
Planning, planning, planning
Freak Fest's successful outcome highlights the importance of pre-planning security for special events. "When it comes to event security, planning, planning and planning are the three most important things you can do," stresses Assistant Chief Dale Burke of the UW-Madison Police Department. University officers assist the Madison PD at the city's annual Halloween party, Mifflin Street Block Party, and Rhythm & Booms, which draws a crowd of nearly 300,000 each year.
"[In the past], we knew it was coming, and we staffed it and coordinated our response to it," Gloede explains. "Involving the city [in what was a spontaneous, non-sponsored event] gave the celebration structure." City officials named the event, fenced in the location, charged a $5 admission fee, and assigned duties to each city department, taking the onus off of law enforcement to carry out tasks not normally considered police responsibilities.
Burke and the rest of the UW-Madison PD team might be hailed as special event security experts, as this Big 10 school handles more than 100 special events a year. These events include UW-Madison football games that draw crowds of 80,000+, men's basketball and men's hockey competitions, as well as other athletic contests, concerts, and speaking engagements from visiting dignitaries.
Under the helm of Police Chief Susan Riseling, the department developed an Incident Action Plan to guide law enforcement as they plan security for these varied events. With this plan in place, the department operates much like a professional sports team. The more complex the event, the more officers open up the playbook, and the less multifaceted the affair, the less plays officers run.
"The bottom line is that this document provides guidance and helps officers understand there are some basic things you need to do each and every time, regardless of the type or size of the event," Burke says.
The UW-Madison PD playbook incorporates the following into its plan:
- Situation Statement. Officers must develop a statement clearly defining the problem and police department goals for the event. Historical information about the event and a description of the venue should follow.
- Mission Statement. This document further defines police goals and objectives. If multiple goals exist, they should be identified in priority order. This serves as a helpful guide, says Burke, where officers can ask themselves: "If we do this, how does it help achieve our ultimate goals? Will it conflict with our originally stated goals?"
- Concept of Operations. This data tracks the expected operations of the police, from briefing to demobilization. If communications, traffic or pedestrian plans are necessary, they are included here.