Police brace themselves for Halloween festivities


Police officers from Kent State, Kent City, and Brimfield were stationed in around Downtown Kent for the annual Halloween festivities Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. Some officers were on duty until as early as 7 a.m. to make sure rowdy partygoers did not get out of hand.

Ray Strickland

The last Saturday of October, downtown Kent becomes an attraction as thousands of people, attired in Halloween costumes, pack the streets for Halloween parties and bar-hopping.

This year it will be no different. Kent will be expecting thousands of revelers to gather for festivities both downtown and around campus Saturday, Oct. 25.

To prepare for the weekend’s large crowds and potentially rowdy partiers, the Kent Police Department and Kent State University Police beef up their forces, bringing in reinforcements, and in some cases, suiting up their own officers in riot gear.

The Kent Police Department has mutual aid agreements with other area police departments, including Brimfield, Ravenna, Tallmadge, Stow and Kent State University, said Lt. Jim Prusha. The police department chooses to call in officers to come and help them out in any situation, including large events like Halloween.

The police department estimates there will be roughly around 100 to 130 officers on the scene for Saturday night’s Halloween event, Prusha said.

The Kent State University Police Department also plans to have additional officers on duty this Saturday, said officer Michquel Penn.

“For us, even though those events occur in the city’s jurisdiction, we know a good majority of (the participants) are our students,” Penn said. “We know a good majority are not staying somewhere in the city. They are going to come back on campus and stay.”

The Kent State Police send as many officers as they can to help the city’s police department, but keeping officers on campus is a priority as well, Penn said.

Out of control

Between 2010 and 2013, Kent police arrested 201 individuals on Halloween alone, according to Kent Police Department records. The arrests consisted of both adults and juveniles.

Most arrests were related to drinking and fighting. Kent Police arrested 116 individuals for drinking violations and 39 people for disorderly conduct.

“When they start fighting and when 19-year-olds are too drunk in the street with their beers, they’re going to jail,” Prusha said.

Despite the high arrest numbers, officers rarely struggle to keep crowds in check on Halloween. In fact, Kent’s Halloween celebration seems tame compared to College Fest 2011, an annual student block party which got so out of hand that the Metro SWAT team dispersed aggressive partiers.

Officers used flash-bang grenades, tear gas and smoke bombs to subdue crowds after partiers began throwing beer bottles and fighting. The altercation resulted in 50 arrests.

The police department also filed use of force paperwork to account for the use of the non-lethal weapons.

The department is required to document any incident where an officer potentially uses excessive physical force or a weapon, according to Kent Police Department’s Use of Force policy.

Although the Kent Police Department asserted they did not use excessive force, some community members debated whether their crowd dispersal tactics were appropriate.

The police don’t want to hurt people in riot situations, Prusha said. Their goal is to break up the crowd and keep people safe.

Officers give fair warning before using crowd dispersal tactics, he said.

“You start trying to enforce laws but when there is too many (people) you just can’t handle, now it is time for everybody to go away,” Prusha said.



Officer training

For out-of-control situations like College Fest, the Kent Police Department has an arsenal of non-lethal weapons, used to disband unruly crowds.

Their selection includes: tasers, beanbags, 12 gauge shotguns with less lethal rounds, as well as 37 MM and 40 MM Launchers — which launch impact rounds or tear gas — pepper ball guns, tear gas and pepper spray grenades, or pepper spray cans.

The Kent Police Department receives annual police training that includes handling riot situations, Prusha said. Officers participated in this year’s training a couple weeks ago.

The Kent Police Department and the departments it partners with receive day-long training to prepare officers for events like Halloween and College Fest, he said.

“We did taser training, where you watch a powerpoint presentation in a classroom, we did some scenarios, where they had cardboard guy… and we had to figure out if to use a taser or not,” Prusha said.

Training also familiarizes officers with using gas masks, launching tear gas, shooting pepper ball guns and practicing with handguns, he said.

Community reaction

Evan Bailey, the co-owner of Tree City Coffee & Pastry in downtown Kent, said his shop stayed open later than normal business hours for last year’s Halloween. This year, Bailey opted to close at the regular time because he felt staying open presented liabilities for his business.

“I want to be known for aligning with the family-friendly thing on Friday,” Bailey said. “That’s the best fit for our business. A late-night drink-fest isn’t the best fit for an early-morning coffee shop.”

Bailey said he feels comfortable with police officers patrolling downtown Kent during the celebration.

With thousands of people, there is always a potential for a riot, he said.

“Police are putting themselves in harm’s way,” Bailey said. “Are they intimidating? I think that is a personal opinion, but I do think they need to protect themselves.”

Carly Simi, a senior advertising major, said although she has attended Kent Halloween in past years, it doesn’t interest her now that she’s an upperclassman.

The police in their riot gear didn’t scare her away though, she said.

“When I see a police in riot gear, I don’t feel any type of way,” Simi said. “They’re only here to protect everyone.”

Although police and business owners insist that they’re only protecting the community, the intimidating gear and weapons make some students nervous.

Junior marketing major Danielle Stokes said Kent has a good reputation for its Halloween party, but she feels uncomfortable with police in riot gear. Incidents like the ones in Ferguson have her wary.

“I feel like my life would be at risk,” Stokes said. “They’re dressed as if they’re anticipating doing something.”

Taking responsibility

With ongoing protests over police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri, some communities are questioning police departments’ crowd control tactics.

The protests have sparked a national debate about the militarization of police departments, some of which receive equipment under the government’s 1033 program. The 1033 program is a government program where surplus military equipment is distributed to local law enforcement agencies who have applied.

The Kent Police Department does not receive anything from the program, Prusha said. But he said he would like community members to understand that police officers are the good guys. They have weapons so they aren’t under-gunned by the real criminals.

Serving the community is a priority, he said. And on Halloween, with crowds of thousands to keep in check, the Kent Police Department plans to use everything at their disposal to keep party-goers safe.

“The cops are not out to lose,” Prusha said. “During Halloween, are we going to have some big Abrams tank marching down the street? No, we are not. But if we did, why are people upset with cops being prepared for the worst?”

Contact Ray Strickland at [email protected].