Boulder Police on why they want to rein in the Mall Crawl and Naked Pumpkin Run
Once upon a time on Halloween, the Pearl Street Mall crawled like this.
The Facebook campaign to resurrect the Boulder Mall Crawl, a Halloween tradition that was put down in 1991 because crowds in the tens of thousands got a wee bit too rowdy, is dead -- if it was ever alive. On Wednesday, Ryan Van Duzer, who put up the Boulder Mall Crawl Facebook page with friend Jonathan Sackheim, noted in a wall post that he had been visited earlier that day by Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner and Deputy Chief Greg Testa -- and afterward, he agreed to dissuade the masses from attending. His message concludes:
So, I am hereby telling all of you not to come to the Mall Crawl, cause there isn't gonna be one... just thousands of people who go to the mall anyway to celebrate, like last year and the year before and the year before...
Why the about-face? Van Duzer offers his point of view in this blog. But members of the Boulder Police are on record as well. The department has just issued a lengthy letter given to Van Duzer; it promised that if he didn't receive the proper permits for Mall Crawl festivities, he could be charged a minimum of $40,000 for additional staffing, security and more. In addition, Beckner is among the official signatories on a joint statement opposing the Mall Crawl. Both documents are reproduced below, with the latter promising "zero tolerance" for Mall Crawlers or participants in another event, the Naked Pumpkin Run, if they get out of control. According to Boulder Police public information officer Sarah Huntley, "That means we will be issuing citations and arresting people."
"Officers always have some discretion in determining what the appropriate response to a crime would be," Huntley continues. "The concern here, with the crowd mentality, is that if you don't stop the individual infractions, they could very quickly grow into a larger problem."
Even before the prospect of a resurrected Mall Crawl surfaced, Huntley says police were leaning in the get-tough direction because of what took place at last year's Naked Pumpkin Run, which attracted more than 2,000 people in various stages of dress or undress. "Last year, we issued citations," she says. "This year we will be making arrests of people participating in the event in violation of the law." She points out that the indecent-exposure statute allows toplessness for both men and women, but bottomlessness is strictly verboten for either gender.
The Boulder Police wanted to pass along this message directly to Sackheim and Van Duzer, so reps found a work address for the former and a home address for the latter. In order to avoid causing a scene at Sackheim's place of employment, a message was left for him; he called the next day, saying he had no interest in meeting with police. But Beckner and Testa dropped in on Van Duzer due to what Huntley describes as a "time crunch. We wanted to be fair and advise them about what the permitting requirements would be for such an event. It often takes thirty days for that kind of gathering, and we wanted them to have an information packet about the city's concerns and proper procedures."
The meeting between Beckner, Testa and Van Duzer was "very cordial and very productive," Huntley says, and Van Duzer "indicated that he understood the city's concerns and subsequently posted something on his Facebook page explaining why he had decided not to go forward with any plans" -- something Beckner and Testa asked him to do.
As for the letter, Huntley calls it "a pretty straight-forward explanation of what the city's concerns were, and the procedures. The city feels it doesn't have the resources to support the event, so it would have to take action to recoup costs." If Van Duzer and Sackheim were approved for a permit, they wouldn't have been liable for the aforementioned $40,000, but they might have been on the hook for damages -- "and we were looking at whether there might be any kind of civil remedies we could take separate from violations of the lawto find ways of coming up with that money," Huntley says. After all, "We'd prefer to spend the funds we have on critical city services, given the economic climate."
According to Huntley, Sackheim, who couldn't be reached for comment, characterized the meeting "as initimidation and quashing of free speech. But we see it as an attempt to reach out, have some proactive dialogue and explain the procedures, so that they were aware of the potential consequences. We didn't just want to get to a point of confrontation on Halloween."
The first document below is the letter given to Van Duzer. The joint statement follows:
***Special Activity or Event Advisement***
To: Ryan Van Duzer, Jonathan Sackheim
Date: September 30, 2009
This written advisement is being provided to you for two reasons. One, we would like to persuade you that organizing the start up of a new Halloween Mall Crawl activity, similar to what occurred 15 to 20 years ago, is not a good idea and ask you to assist us in preventing such an activity by rescinding your invitation to others to join you on the Mall for such an event. Two, if you continue to proceed with organizing such an activity, we want to advise you of the need to apply for two permits. The first permit would be to allow such an activity on the Pearl Street Mall and the second permit would be for the closing of public streets, which would be necessitated by such an event.
The "Mall Crawl" is not a longstanding tradition in Boulder. It was a short lived event that occurred between approximately 1981 and 1994. The event became well known as a spontaneous gathering of large masses of rowdy, intoxicated people congregating on the Mall and blocking cross streets, including Broadway, a main north-south route through the city. The event resulted in fights, assaults, serious injuries, property damage, alcohol/drug overdoses, traffic congestion and truckloads of trash being deposited on the Mall and surrounding streets. Surrounding neighborhoods and businesses were negatively impacted and the cost to taxpayers was in the $30,000 to $40,000 range for police, fire, ambulance, parking, parks, and public works resources. This does not include the cost to private business and property owners for damage to their property. Factors that increase bad behavior in such circumstances are the tendency to over consume alcohol, the anonymous identity provided to participants in costume, and the psychology of crowd behavior. It got so bad, that in 1990, the City Council provided direction to do what was necessary to stop the Mall Crawl. For the next four years, the city spent considerable resources and took significant steps to shut down the annual event.
For the reasons above, the city, the university, community leaders and some members of the downtown business community are opposed to allowing a Halloween Mall Crawl activity to start up again. Furthermore, the city is not in an economic situation where it can afford to spend the type of resources necessary to insure the safety and welfare of the community during a Mall Crawl activity. The total cost for such an event is estimated to be approximately $40,000. This money is not budgeted and would have to be pulled from other programs and services.
Our request is that you stop attempting to organize the startup of a new Halloween Mall Crawl. We appeal to your sense of community and civic responsibility as responsible adults to stop promoting a Mall Crawl, and instead help us discourage people from coming to the Mall to participate in such an activity. To this end, we would ask you to rescind your Facebook invitations, as well as all electronic communications encouraging people to attend, and rescind your public media requests for people to join you on the Mall on Halloween evening. If you wish to host a Halloween party, we only ask that you do so at a private location where the environment, and the size and nature of the crowd can be controlled. This will help save our city from a situation that can quickly get out of control while still allowing you to party and have a good time on Halloween. We would really appreciate your cooperation in this matter.
Should You Decide to Continue Promoting/Organizing a Mall Crawl:
It is our sincere hope that you will agree with us that organizing a new Halloween Mall Crawl activity is not a sound idea. However, should you decide to proceed, please be advised that there are regulations you must follow prior to organizing such an event on the Pearl Street Mall or any other public street in Boulder.
In order to close city streets (which a Mall Crawl activity would necessitate) and prior to organizing a special activity on the Pearl Street Mall, you must first receive a permit from the city to do so. In consultation with the City Attorney's Office, we believe that this particular type of activity also comes under the requirements for holding a carnival in the city. Permits will not be issued unless you meet the requirements for such activity, and in the city's determination, the activity does not create a public safety hazard. Application for a permit does not guarantee that a permit will be issued, but application is the first step the in the process. Requirements include having a non-profit sponsor, providing security for the event, developing a traffic plan and providing insurance to indemnify the city of liability. We have attached an application packet that includes all of the requirements for application.
If you continue your organizational efforts without first obtaining a permit, then you may be subject to prosecution for violating city ordinances. We have attached copies of ordinances we believe would be applicable to the situation.
We also believe it is our responsibility to advise you in advance that our estimated costs for police services, anticipated damage to city property, traffic and parking control, and mall/street cleanup for such an event will be approximately $40,000. Part of our strategy would be to seek restitution for these expenses should you be convicted of violating an applicable city ordinance. We are also investigating the possibility of seeking civil action on behalf of the city to recover costs through a civil process.
Our reason for taking such a position is based on the information we provided in the background section of this document, and on the significant efforts undertaken in the past to bring an end to the Halloween Mall Crawl. We are willing to take whatever measures are necessary to prevent a Mall Crawl activity from developing again. Much effort has been put into creating a family atmosphere on the Pearl Street Mall so that it is a welcoming place for all community members. This is an important value for us to maintain.
Again, it is our hope that you will understand our position and agree to help us put an end to talk of recreating a Halloween Mall Crawl. By working together, we can protect our community, save the unnecessary expenditure of resources, and protect you from facing potential unpleasant consequences.
Mark R. Beckner Chief of Police
Greg Testa Deputy Chief of Operations
City, community leaders release joint statement opposing Mall Crawl
City of Boulder and community leaders are concerned about the possibility of a revived Halloween "Mall Crawl" and united in opposition to recent efforts to promote the return of this unsafe event. As part of this opposition, police officials met Wednesday, Sept. 30, with one of two people who had been encouraging the return of the Mall Crawl. The purpose of this meeting was to share the city's perspective and concerns and outline the permitting requirements that would be applicable for a Mall Crawl-type gathering.
"The Mall Crawl posed enormous safety issues and costs to businesses and taxpayers in the past," said Police Chief Mark Beckner. "The city has worked hard to create a safe, family-friendly environment on the Pearl Street Mall. We see no benefits, and plenty of risks, to changing our focus now."
City agencies have done a cost analysis and determined that the approximate expense of such an event this year would be $40,000. This is the estimated amount to cover the costs of providing law enforcement, other necessary staffing, traffic control and clean-up. These are resources that should be spent on other, more vital city services and resources. This estimate does not include likely costs that would be incurred by the city and private businesses as a result of damage done by Mall Crawl participants.
On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Police Chief Mark Beckner and Deputy Police Chief Greg Testa attempted to meet with both Ryan Von Duzer and Jonathan Sackheim, the administrators of the Facebook page that had been urging this activity. The meeting with Von Duzer was very productive. After talking with Beckner and Testa, he agreed that bringing back the Mall Crawl is not a good idea and promised to discourage others from coming to Pearl Street on Halloween for the purpose of participating in a Mall Crawl event. Thus far, Sackheim has declined to meet with police to discuss the issue.
The following joint statement spells out the concerns in more detail:
"The City of Boulder, the University of Colorado, the Downtown Boulder, Inc. and community leaders are working hard to discourage any organizers who are rallying for a renewal of the Halloween Mall Crawl. Based on our past experiences with this event, we are united in our opposition. The Mall Crawl poses serious risks and costs to our residents and taxpayers.
At its height, the event drew between 15,000 and 20,000 participants to the Pearl Street Mall, filling the street shoulder to shoulder with revelers, many of whom had consumed excessive amounts of alcohol. As a result, traffic was congested, the city and local businesses suffered a great deal of property damage, people were assaulted, officers were injured, and the aftermath clean-up was extensive. The public safety risk to those involved, innocent bystanders and officers brought in to keep the peace is enormous, and there are significant concerns about the possibility of rioting.
In the past, revelers have left behind broken windows, bent lampposts, damaged railings, littering and trash all along the Mall. The money it would take to address these issues - plus provide additional law enforcement staffing - is at a premium given our current economic climate. Those resources are needed for much more critical city services. It took tremendous effort and cost over a five-year-period to bring this event to a close. In its place, our community has come together to provide family-friendly alternative events on Halloween. We see absolutely no benefit to changing that direction now."
City officials hope that pro-active dialogue about the dangers of the Mall Crawl will be sufficient to promote a safe environment on Saturday, Oct. 31. However, the police department is preparing for the possibility of large crowds on the Mall. Officers will be instructed to take a zero-tolerance approach to any violations of municipal or state law. In addition, if city officials determine that the crowds are causing a hazard to public safety, there may be times when access to streets and parking lots will be limited or shut down.
The city appreciates the advance efforts of all community members in spreading the word about safe, alternative ways to celebrate this holiday.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.