MAYHEM PATROL

Keeping special events from spinning out of control


"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.

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