Police discuss Castro Halloween plans
October 11, 2007 6:11 PM
The official word from the city is out: the Castro Halloween party is over, and the decision is not up for debate.
The San Francisco Police Commission and other local officials convened at City Hall Wednesday night to make their decision known and to discuss strategies for coping with rabble-rousing party goers who plan on attending the canceled event anyway.
"We're not shutting down the Castro," said Theresa Sparks, President of the San Francisco Police Commission. "We're shutting down the party."
The authorities’ decision came as a result of increased violence at the event over the past five years, including a shooting spree that injured nine individuals last year. In addition, officials said the event has experienced unprecedented growth and the Castro neighborhood can no longer sustain the crowds.
“I tried to take Halloween…and make it a more positive effort,” said Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who represents the Castro. “(But) based upon our experience, from a public safety standpoint…it’s simply unmanageable.”
Collaborating with Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Office, Dufty said he originally established a task force to deal with the issues surrounding the event, but the committee never materialized, he said.
In addition, drunk, belligerent behavior and overcrowdedness squashed Dufty’s safety initiatives like creating access lanes for emergency vehicles and ramping up on-hand personnel, he said.
Drunk driving and belligerence in the streets will not be tolerated this year, Sparks said, and the San Francisco Police Department has a plan in place to deal with situations as they arise.
“We are taking this Halloween evening very seriously,” Police Chief Heather Fong said. “We will have resources available…that can be moved around the city.”
Fong said the SFPD already established three command sites in the Castro, which will enable police deployment at a moment’s notice. She also said the California Highway Patrol has contributed a significant amount of resources to ensure public safety and sober driving.
Other SFPD initiatives include putting every police station on alert in the city, utilizing MUNI to transport police squads, and gathering information from local organizations, Deputy Chief David Chin said.
During public comment, one Castro resident blasted the police department’s efforts, though.
“Security didn’t stop the chaos last year,” Dennis Johns said. “I live one block from where the shootings occurred…and the police department still hasn’t done anything about it.”
Rosenthal said safety efforts were inadequate last year, because police officers stood on the sidelines instead of permeating crowds, she added.
Instead of ending the Castro party, Rosenthal said the city needs to plan one year in advance, so that it can properly manage it. Spending $40,000 on a public relations campaign two weeks in advance doesn’t work, she said.
“You can’t cancel a spontaneous event,” Rosenthal said. “Like Critical Mass, Willie Brown tried to cancel it, but it doubled in size.”
SF resident Scott Shiff said he was 50 yards from the shooting last year.
“Holy Cow!” Shiff said. “It was a near stampede.”
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