The local police presence during this weekend’s Mardi Gras celebrations will be scaled back considerably compared to the previous two years, the San Luis Obispo Police Department said.
After a large-scale riot during the 2004 celebrations led to 206 arrests, the San Luis Obispo Police Department multiplied its police force nearly eight times for the past two Mardi Gras weekends, drawing heavily on officers from neighboring departments.
Though figures were not released, the police presence will be “significantly less” for this year’s celebrations, which take place Feb. 16-20, said San Luis Obispo Police Department Capt. Dan Blanke. In 2005 there were 450 officers and 350 in 2006.
“We’re saying it’s going to be a significant presence,” said Blanke, who is in charge of police operations for Mardi Gras weekend. “We’re confident that we can still handle anything that might occur.”
Agribusiness junior Jason Fullmer, who was on the street during Mardi Gras in 2004, said the reduced police presence makes him more inclined to participate in this year’s celebrations.
“It’s a good idea to have security toned down because last year there were cops everywhere,” he said. “It’s good to have police around because it keeps everyone under control, but it should be within reason.”
Officers, many of whom will be on bicycles and motorcycles, will maintain their largest presence downtown and in the north end of San Luis Obispo, which extends from Santa Rosa Street to Grand Avenue.
The reduction in officers is the last part of a three-year plan the City Council passed in 2004 to stop raucous partying during Mardi Gras. In 2005, the Police Department launched “The Party is Over” campaign that used print and radio ads, door hangers, highway signs, posters and other media to deliver its message.
The city continued the campaign last year under the slogan “The Party is Still Over.” In 2005 and 2006, 82 and 48 arrests were made during Mardi Gras weekend in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
Though police plan to use door hanger outreach in heavily student-populated areas, there is no slogan for this year’s campaign, Blanke said.
University Police Chief Bill Watton, whose department will team up with SLOPD for Mardi Gras weekend, said the fervor surrounding the holiday has largely died down in recent years.
“When you look at our students, only fourth- and fifth-year students were here during the problem time,” he said. “The newer students weren’t here and don’t know what Mardi Gras was, so we thought we could scale it down a little bit.” The University Police Department will call up about 30 officers from the California State University system for Mardi Gras, Watton said.
Architecture freshman Emily Kirwan said she had heard of the 2004 Mardi Gras riot before coming to Cal Poly. She said she will probably go out this year.
“I think there are a lot of police around already,” she said. “They don’t need to go full force.”
From midnight on Friday until after “Fat Tuesday,” San Luis Obispo will become a “safety enhancement zone,” meaning those receiving citations for public urination, hosting parties with minors, weapons offenses and noise complaints will be subject to enhanced fines. The fines range from $350 to $700, depending on how many citations the offender received in the previous 12 months.
Those cited with public nudity offenses will receive a $100 fine.