Vail Police crackdown leads to a less evil eve
From the vantage point of the camera, on a balcony above the Rucksack, all you can see is people. Little groups of four and five swirl in opposite directions like tide pools, and the currents of movement seem to have a harmonious logic to them, until two males with hats on backwards are forced, face first, into one another.One shoves the other, who stumbles back stunned. The camera zooms into his face. His eyes are rolled back into his head, and he doesn’t appear old enough to shave. The other male has closed in now and throws an off-balance punch that barely connects, but then the crowd shifts gears and the two are separated. In half a second, they’re indistinguishable from everyone else.Then it happens again, and again. Sometime just after midnight, the camera pans up to the roof above Vendetta’s, where two kids are lighting firecrackers and tossing them into the crowd.This is the police video from New Year’s Eve 2000. About an hour after this footage, two people were nearly trampled to death on the south side of the Covered Bridge. “We showed this video to the town council that spring,” says Vail Police operations commander Steve Wright, “and they said, ‘That’s it. This has got to change.'”The council began to study other communities that have dealt with what Vail Police Volunteer Program director Frank D’Alessio calls “amateur night,” places like Boulder and Palm Beach, Fla. The goal, according to Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger, was to make Bridge Street safe for a family with young children to walk down at the stoke of midnight, or as Wright describes it, to turn “amateur night” into “family night.”To that end, the Vail PD, at the request of both the town and the community, brought in more than 100 out-of-jurisdiction police officers for the Fourth of July celebration that summer of 2001. They set up seven checkpoints along Bridge Street to keep the under-21 crowd that had traditionally dominated the outdoor celebration out of the area, and they established a 10:30 p.m. curfew for those 17 and under. Right away, they’d changed the culture.Not everybody was happy about it at first. A Vail business owner called the measures “totally obscene” at a town council meeting in June of 2001, and the sparse crowds that summer had some wondering if the town had overreacted. The numbers, however, were overwhelmingly positive. Only one arrest for underage possession and zero injuries, as opposed to 26 arrests the previous holiday and six injuries.This year, the number of out-of-jurisdiction policeman has been reduced to 40, thereby also reducing the cost of managing the festivities. Wright estimates that the 100 extra officers cost between $16,000 and $20,000, a price he says is inexpensive in comparison to the town suffering a serious riot, which they were on the threshold of, according to law enforcement experts the town consulted.Further reducing the cost this year is the success of the Vail Police Volunteer Program (VP2) headed up by D’Alessio and fellow Vail resident Gilda Kaplan. Sixteen volunteers will be working this New Year’s Eve, manning checkpoints, passing out literature at the parking structure, and aiding communication between officers.”The volunteer program has been an incredible asset to the police department,” Wright says.Who would want to sacrifice the greatest party night of the year? Sitting around a table in the department, D’Alessio, Henninger, Wright and Sgt. Mike Knox reminisced about how New Year’s Eve has changed since they were young.”It went from a night you spent singing Auld Lang Syne with your family into the epitome of raucous behavior,” says D’Alessio. He describes New Year’s in the past as being a more romantic holiday, centered on the concept of renewal. A night to remember, in other words, not a night to erase memory.The video of New Year’s 2001 is not romantic, but it at least depicts a world within which romance could occur. Bridge Street is still crowded, but there are also empty spaces between groups. The camera is at street level this time and at one point nearly runs into a family of four walking hand in hand. Snowflakes, not firecrackers, are falling from the sky.Vail rings in the New Year Traditional celebration in Vail Village for those 21 and older. Call your favorite bar for their admission price and specials. Concert at Dobson Ice Arena starring Brooklyn’s own Trick Daddy. Tickets are $45 at the arena. Doors open at 9 p.m. Alcohol will be served. Vail Resorts is opening up Adventure Ridge. The Eagle Bahn gondola will start running at 8:15pm. Activities include laser tag, tubing and ice skating, plus there will be plenty of food and a DJ playing music. All children will be required to sign in and out. New Year’s Eve fireworks at 8 p.m. at Golden Peak. County-wide bus service is free on New Year’s Eve. Call Eco Transit at 328-3520.