They say idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and that’s just what Salem police and officials are trying to avoid during Halloween weekend. Salem police are bracing for crowds up to 100,000 on Saturday and up to 30,000 on Friday.
They say idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and that’s just what Salem police and officials are trying to avoid during Halloween weekend.
A bored crowd is potentially a dangerous crowd, said Capt. Brian Gilligan, who oversees Halloween operations for Salem police, which is why it’s so important that police coordinate their efforts along with those of the tourism and business community and city leaders.
This year the city’s strategic planning may be especially important, given that the big night falls on a Saturday, and one with good weather forecasts to boot. Salem police are bracing for crowds up to 100,000 on Saturday and up to 30,000 on Friday.
“Obviously the challenge this year is two nights in a row. It’s a 48-hour ramp-up,” said Paul Tucker, who, although he’s long played a key role in Halloween planning, is about to have his first Halloween as police chief.
Salem always gets help from the police in area communities on Halloween night —150 to 200 officers in total are expected to be on duty Saturday. This year, Salem will also supplement the city’s force with out-of-town officers on Friday.
For the first time, Salem police will be keeping an eye in the sky on Halloween night, thanks to the use of a privately owned helicopter (police declined to name the donor). An officer will monitor traffic and crowds from the copter, police said.
Public safety planning begins each year on the first business day after Halloween, as city officials and police examine “what went wrong, what went right,” Gilligan said Wednesday at a meeting at the police station.
What went right last year, officials said, was the City Council’s decision to triple fines throughout October, raising them to $300 in some cases, for infractions like public drinking, vandalism and disorderly conduct. The increased fines keep the cell blocks free for more serious offenders, Gilligan said, and are a powerful disincentive for misbehavior. With word spreading about the fines, officials expect the fines will be even more effective in their second year.
Just like last year, downtown liquor stores are asked not to sell miniature “nip” alcohol bottles, and lines outside establishments will be dispersed to avoid altercations.
As for keeping crowds occupied, the Fiesta Shows carnival will return to Derby Street, there will be music and events on the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall and family activities on Salem Common, like a hay-bale maze and a build-a-scarecrow booth. Haunted Happenings is intended to be a family-style event, Gilligan said.
Nonetheless, he acknowledged, “Treats are a big part of Halloween, but tricks are too. That’s kind of what makes it a unique event.”
The tendency toward mischief is why the police divide the city into five divisions, each staffed for its particular needs, with detectives and K-9 units and motorcycles or ATVs. It’s the reason there will be plainclothes officers spread around the downtown, and why police will keep tabs on the handful of surveillance cameras that exist in the downtown.
It’s also the reason Salem works with the agencies like the Essex County Sheriff’s Office and NEMLEC (North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council), so they have the equipment and trained officers required if police need to take extreme measures, like using pepper ball guns or tear gas.
Key to the success of the night, officials said, are the closing festivities. Last year’s closing “was the easiest it’s ever been in the history of the event,” Gilligan said, thanks to the fireworks and entertainment set up on Washington Street, where police could easily herd crowds to the MBTA station at the end of the night.
The city is again staging end-of-the-night activities on Washington Street, and is supplementing it this year with a concert by the Dave Matthews cover band Dancing Nancy, sponsored by the 92.9 radio station. The station has been publicizing the event, and held a contest to select an opening band, DicknJane.
The entire event ends at 11 p.m., when police officially shut down the city. As usual, they’ll have help from mounted police. This year, however, the cavalry is supplied by Plymouth County police and is expected to include eight to 10 horses.
Visitors should leave their fake weapons at home if they don’t want them confiscated (and real ones, too, of course). And they should remember, Gilligan said, that the Witch City shuts down relatively early: guests need to arrive early if they want to enjoy themselves.
“Don’t come here at 9, 10 at night thinking you’re going to get into an event, a restaurant, a bar,” he said.