"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.

"We always require a demobilization plan," says Burke. "That's something which tends to get overlooked. People spend so much time and energy gearing up for an event that they forget it's just as important to prepare for demobilization."

When strategizing demobilization, Burke recommends detailing the criteria for determining when police services are no longer required. Will police leave at a designated time or stagger demobilization? If so, who gets to depart first and why? Perhaps the smallest agency will leave because they must return to their own jurisdictions, or maybe there are officers from other departments who are volunteering their time who should be released first. "It is very important to think about these things ahead of time," he says.

  • Assignment Sheet. This plan should list who's assigned where and what their responsibilities are. This delineates a specific chain of command, duties and responsibilities.
  • Officer Relief Plan. Another item often overlooked is how officer breaks will be handled. It's critical to determine how officers' needs for food, water and other necessities will be met.

"We stress to our supervisors that regardless of an event's size, these core points must be met," says Burke. "The plan can get bigger, but no matter how small it is, all of the basics must be covered."

Know the crowd
One of the factors greatly impacting Madison's previous Halloween festivities was alcohol consumption, says Gloede. Though over the years law enforcement had enacted measures to add control to the event through education, public announcements, rules and standards of conduct, it traditionally had little impact on alcohol consumption because the majority of it occurred off-site. Enclosing the festivities in 2006 afforded police greater control.

"We could control access and prevent open intoxicants from getting onto the street," Gloede points out. "And we could monitor individuals as they entered to screen out those intoxicated to the point where they were already out of control."

This is a change that could only be made through thorough knowledge of crowd dynamics, which is related to a number of factors, notes Gloede. One is the event itself. Each occurrence, be it a sports competition, concert or rally, has its own dynamics that dictate crowd behavior.

It's important to gather this type of information independently rather than solely rely on event organizers or promoters, stresses Paul Wertheimer, director of Crowd Management Strategies, a Los Angeles, California-based consulting firm devoted to helping organizations produce safe public events. As the former assistant operations director at the Adolph Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, explains, "Promoters and venue operators often don't tell police, fire or building inspectors everything they know about an event in fear that it will cost them more."

During pre-planning, law enforcement should categorize the event by type and follow this with a risk assessment, notes Patrick Jordan, director of Mojo Barriers, a U.S.-based company with headquarters in the Netherlands that manufactures crowd barriers for live events. "Event security covers a very broad range of different types of events and each different type of event needs its own adapted approach," adds Jordan, who received an honorary degree in 2006 from Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College for his crowd safety research.

A crowd profile also is vital, Wertheimer emphasizes. Distinguishing whether the crowd will be primarily female, largely disabled, a mixture of adults and children, gang-bangers, educational officials, and so on helps police assess risk factors. Obviously an event where attendees might drink to excess, take drugs or party in the parking lot carries far higher risk than a church potluck.

"The crowd at a football game is different than the crowd at a men's basketball game, and the crowd at a men's basketball competition differs from men's hockey games," explains Burke. "The crowds are not the same; the behaviors are not the same; and our plans for these events must differ based on the expected crowd."

The crowd's average age also impacts enforcement. A young crowd may carry greater risks than a very mature one, notes Jordan, who explains, "A very young crowd can be hard to control as they are very focused on the entertainment and may forget their own safety."

A concert presents unique challenges to law enforcement, Wertheimer adds, and here officers require information about the entertainment itself. Whether the act will be family oriented or geared toward teens, play classical music or hip hop, weighs in heavily when considering the types of crowds it will draw and the behaviors the crowd will exhibit.

Finally, consider the venue. Where an event is held also impacts the need for police presence. Officers must learn if the event will be outside or inside, or if it will offer reserved or festival seating. "Festival seating is historically the most deadly and dangerous," explains Wertheimer.

Venue hot spots to consider include entries and exits, including back door and backstage entrances. Often, law enforcement screens crowds at the front door but fails to check those entering through the back door with the entertainer's entourage. Here again he points to the need to gather some intel about the entertainment. If an entertainer or his entourage has a history of violence, drug use or firearms possession, then this must be factored into the department's risk assessment.

Finally, don't take an organizer's word that they meet industry standards for event security. The reality is, warns Wertheimer, that while such benchmarks proliferate in fire, police and building codes, common standards do not exist in the event promotion world. "If a police officer is told by an organizer that they adhere to industry standards, he should ask to see those standards," he says. "They will soon find they do not exist."

Remember, an organizer's priorities might differ greatly from law enforcement's. When massive crowds appear there is always the potential for an accident or a disaster to occur, however organizers may not see it that way. "Sometimes it's hard to convince them that no money can or should be saved on the safety of the crowd," Jordan says. "I think it's time that some better guidelines for crowd management get put into place to make sure we have done all we can to make events as safe as possible for visitors."

To control or to manage?
The terms "crowd control" and "crowd management" are often used interchangeably, but they mean two different things, states Wertheimer, who's served on special events committees in Cincinnati with both police and fire officials and acted as a police liaison when working for Adolph Rupp Arena.

Wertheimer describes crowd control as the regulation and restriction of crowds. He cites parades as an example of crowd control. At a parade, barriers are set up by police, and people are funneled through the parade route in a specific way. Police give directives and expect the crowd to follow them.

In turn, he portrays crowd management as more of a participatory process, where police offer information and the crowd is largely self-directed. The idea is to give attendees enough information to do the right thing with minimal amounts of police regulation and direction.

Both are needed at every event, Jordan adds. "Crowd management is the general plan and crowd control measures are a tool to stay on track of the plan," he says. "One cannot work without the other, and every event with proper crowd management will have to use some form of crowd control."

At Freak Fest 2006, the Madison PD incorporated a two-phased method of dealing with the crowd, beginning with crowd management. The crowd management phase began prior to the event when police publicized standards of conduct. These promotional materials detailed expectations for individuals and the crowd. Among these directives were "no open intoxicants," "no dangerous costumes or weapons," "no disorderly behaviors," etc. with a list of consequences for each behavior.

As the event unfolded, posters and banners served as further reminders of the rules. At this stage, officers engaged the crowd, interacting with them in a fun, light-hearted way. "Our officers even had their pictures taken with people," Gloede says. "That happens a lot — the college kids want to be photographed with officers while they're in costume.

"We want to break down the stereotype that we are the enemy," he clarifies. This goes a long way later in the evening, when if crowd dynamics change, the earlier positive experiences with police may prevent individuals from acting up.

Madison officers attempt to keep the crowd in this phase as long as possible, until dynamics change, notes Gloede.

The switch to crowd control depends on the crowd. If the crowd begins damaging property, starting bon fires in the street or throwing bottles for instance, police move to control measures. "We then need to end the event for public safety reasons," he explains. The public address system may first announce the event's conclusion. Later, police in uniforms, but not riot gear, may form a line to move people along. If necessary, police will don their protective apparel and use chemical agents to move the crowd.

"There are a number of different options from a law enforcement standpoint, but that is dictated by the crowd's conduct," Gloede says. When Madison officers enact greater control measures, they begin with pepper spray then move up to tear gas. Impact projectiles also may be used. But none of these strategies were necessary during 2006.

Training, training, training
Three additional words that enhance event security are training, training, training, says Wertheimer, noting officers must be trained in both crowd management and crowd control.

"When push comes to shove, you can depend on the police — because they are trained professionals, they're dedicated and they're disciplined," he adds.

But, especially in the area of crowd management, Wertheimer states, more training builds better response. While crowd control has long been a mainstay of law enforcement, crowd management is a relatively new focus and an area where greater training emphasis is required.

In preparation for Freak Fast, the Madison PD trains alongside the departments who've pledged mutual aid for the event. Training together ensures all officers share similar philosophies in crowd management and crowd control and respond identically at the event.

At UW-Madison, officers receive 2 hours of instruction at the onset of each football season, if they've worked football games before, and 4 hours if they have not. But there are on-the-job training opportunities as well. Burke considers every event his officers work alongside the Madison PD as a training op that better prepares them for future events.

This type of preparation protects police liability as well. Whenever an event goes awry, first reports often blame police response, Wertheimer explains. "If there is a disorder or riot at an event, organizers often tell the media police failed in their duties," he says. "But it's the police who have to come in and clean up the mess."

Learn from your mistakes
From rather auspicious beginnings in 1977, Halloween on State Street has become a tradition that has seen its share of crowds, costumes and chaos. Over the years, police response to this event has evolved as much as the event itself.

"The more times you deal with a specific event, the more you can learn from it," Gloede explains. Every year the Madison PD reviews its response and tweaks it for the year to come. And Gloede says this learning process cannot be understated.

For those agencies facing a new event for the first time in their communities, Gloede recommends tapping into the resources of those who've already walked the walk. Ask these agencies for assistance, guidance and possible training opportunities. And, make this part of the planning process.

As Burke says, "The goal is to have everybody — both the police and attendees — come out on the other end feeling good, having enjoyed themselves and having learned from the experience."

In Madison, newspaper headlines following Freak Fest 2006 boasted, "Party planning pays off," and today Madison officers are no longer on mayhem patrol.