Suddenly, Nothing Happened: The New Year’s Eve Plaza Wrap-Up – January 5, 2012

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Arcata High students Rebecca Smith, Faviana Schectman and Zoe Tinseth discuss the Plaza center barrier on New Year's Eve afternoon. Photos by KLH | Eye

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

PLAZA – Responding to demands that it do something to prevent a reoccurrence of Halloween’s near-riot, and potential harm to people and property, the City and Arcata Police mounted a major anti-mayhem effort on the Plaza New Year’s Eve.

That afternoon, Parks Division workers installed a flexible plastic fence around the entire center of the Plaza. The plastic palisade both demarked the off-limits zone and, by its flimsiness, deprived anyone so tempted of anything substantial to use as a missile or cudgel.

As the witching hour approached, the flimsy fence had become a novelty attraction it is own right.

Opinions were mixed on the fence’s efficacy and appropriateness. “I’m not opposed to this,” said Arcata High student Rebecca Smith, who had served as faux vice mayor of Arcata during the recent Student Government Day exercise. She said that after reviewing the damage toll of close to $10,000 on Halloween, preventive measures were prudent. Still, she advocated creation of other events throughout downtown as an alternative and solution to downtown destruction. “I think that’s a very good idea,” Smith said.

Others saw the fence as an attractive nuisance, or a challenge for determined partiers to surmount. “I think this is probably going to make people rebel more,” said Faviana Schectman. “This could create more potential anger,” agreed Zoe Tinseth.

The complex of APD vehicles at cordoned-off Eighth Street included a booking area for misbehavers.

By nightfall, that symbolic barrier had been augmented by swarms of police officers from neighboring agencies – Eureka Police, Ferndale Police, Fortuna Police, Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office, Humboldt State University Police and Rio Dell Police.

As the evening progressed, the Plaza was all but devoid of non-police officers. Most citizens skirted the square entirely, evidently assuming by the massive police presence that it was on “lockdown,” as one passerby was heard to mention.

Police did little to disabuse anyone of this assumption. Officers milled about not just in the fenced-off Plaza center, but on all the corners. As a crowd massed at Ninth and H streets, a small phalanx of officers formed a reverse delta formation at the planter, creating a disincentive to pass beyond the outer sidewalk. While crowd behavior can lead to a breakdown of personal standards by those involved, as evidently occurred on Halloween, this night the crowd effect worked to police advantage. Those among the roiling mass of celebrants chose to stick with the crowd, few breaking away for solo expeditions. Lacking an alpha to lead the charge beyond the outer sidewalks, the crowd remained off the Plaza altogether. The police’s psychological tactic worked, deterring all but a few approaches to the gossamer barrier surrounding at the Plaza’s core.

Police officers "guard" the Plaza. Though partiers could have walked right past them, they didn't.

The bluff was reminiscent of how an APD officer told 4/20 attendees last spring that the event had been “canceled” due to rain, which was impossible since it had never been formally scheduled by anyone. Then as now, the misdirection was effective. Rarely were there more than a dozen individuals on the main Plaza at any given time.

Police Chief Tom Chapman coordinated the massive multi-agency response from a cordoned-off complex of  APD vehicles located in the 600 block of Eighth Street on the Plaza’s southeast corner.

One support vehicle was used as a processing center for arrestees, while another trailer housed a small canteen for officers.

From within the new Incident Response Vehicle, APD brass monitored the action, or lack thereof, via a mast-mounted video camera looking down on the square. Chapman and Lt. Bart Silvers were able to zoom in on hot spots such as Ninth and H streets and redeploy officers as necessary.

APD Chief Tom Chapman and Lt. Bart Silvers watch the action, or lack thereof, inside the Incident Response Vehicle. A mast-mounted video camera allows them to zoom in on situations from all the way across the Plaza.

That became necessary when a man was dragged from a percussion circle on the corner of Ninth and H, halting the rhythmic exercise. He resisted arrest and was subdued by a half-dozen or more officers. The spectacle entranced the crowd and, as it surged beyond the corner planters to watch and point cell phones at the cop-on-drunk action, it briefly threatened to break through the imaginary barrier that was holding celebrants off the Plaza.

But police quickly carried the arrestee off, excitement died down and by 12:30 a.m. or so, the Plaza was no burlier than on any other weekend night. Virtually all of the action was concentrated along Tavern Row.

Police subdue an individual resisting arrest, to the fascination of the Ninth and H crowd. But that was the extent of the big excitement that night, and once he was carted off, it wasn't long before the crowd dissipated.

At 2:20 a.m. on New Year’s morning, Chapman issued a press release declaring the preventive measures a success. The release stated that during the course of the evening six arrests were made, plus five arrests for public intoxication and one arrest for driving under the influence.

What it cost

Chief Chapman said that APD rang up roughly $2,800 in overtime costs for APD officers on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day morning. There were other miscellaneous other costs too trivial to tally, such gas for the power generator at the mini-APD station. Food for officers was donated by local businesses.

Providing highly effective role modeling for fellow New Year's Eve carousers, Jeff Musgrave and Chakeeta chose to make love, not mayhem.

Chapman said that as a matter of policy, the number of officers deployed on the Plaza won’t be disclosed. However, ground observations that night easily places that number in the dozens, as APD was prepared for any eventuality.

Other police agencies which assisted that night did not bill the City for the mutual aid, and were paid by their respective jurisdictions. “They’re taking care of their own,” he said. Chapman ballparked the other agencies collective costs at about $2,500.

About that $30,000

Ever since the news of Halloween-related damage came out, an inaccurate figure of $30,000 has been bandied about for Plaza cleanup and repair costs. It persists despite the accurate numbers having been repeatedly published, with attribution to City officials.

The actual Halloween fixup figure is about $3,600, covering Plaza rehab the next day, according to Parks Supt. Dan Diemer. Another estimated $5,000 in damage was done to the Plaza’s irrigation system. that will be fully ascertained when the system is fired up this spring.

So where did the highly inflated $30,000 in Plaza damage number come from? Chapman takes responsibility for it, with qualifiers.

He said that in talking to Times-Standard reporter Jessica Cejnar the day after Halloween, he guesstimated the total cost of the previous evening’s mass derangement at $30,000 – with all costs included, City and civilian. These, Chapman said, include jail booking fees, broken windows and other property damage, emergency room visits, DA’s Office prosecutions, court time, Arcata Fire medical aid calls, ambulances and all other resources, public and private, required to address the All Hallow’s Eve aftermath.

Chapman’s ballpark estimate was accurately reported in the T-S, but some erroneously assume that it applies only to City of Arcata costs associated with the Plaza.

“I can’t fault the reporter, as I speak too freely sometimes and shouldn’t,” Chapman said. “I was speaking in the broader context and have to take responsibility.”

But, he added, “I still don’t necessarily disagree with the number,” insofar as it applies to the totality of costs from the Halloween debacle.

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