Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 19, 1999

LP council debates police protection at community events

By Luis Puga

How much police presence is needed at special events was a topic considered by the Lester Prairie City Council last Monday.

The issue was brought to attention by council member Larry Hoof.

Hoof felt that Longhorn Days was over-policed. In total, six policeman covered the two-day event of 700 people, which Hoof said was unheard of.

He then said, "Volunteers put in lots of hours to plan these things. It's supposed to be a community event. We're supposed to be welcoming people into town to spend money. That (many police) isn't a real good welcome."

Hoof added he was concerned about officers driving their cars through the crowds at events. He explained it becomes a problem when they receive an emergency call and have to take off suddenly in the middle of crowds of people.

He suggested that they should keep their cars on the outside perimeter of the event. He added that the fire department can handle traffic control within the event.

Another concern was cost, and Hoof assumed that none of the officers were volunteers. He suggested that Longhorn Days only needed three officers.

Underage drinking was another concern Hoof addressed.

He said the Longhorn Days committee has done everything possible to curb underage drinking, but that it is probably going to happen to some degree.

Hoof said he would prefer that the officers address underage drinkers by talking to them and dumping their alcohol, rather than making an arrest. He added that this alienates young people who may not come back to the event, and not volunteer in the future.

He added that softball players, who were here for the tournament, left town to enjoy some drinks due to the large police presence.

Lastly, he said that he got reports that the police department was on the borderline of harassing people. He also said that he does not condone teenage drinking or smoking, but feels the town needs to "lighten up" at these events.

Mayor Eric Angvall responded by questioning where one draws the line at welcoming people and enforcing the law. He questioned whether the city should allow people to break the law at events.

Council member Galen Hochstein said the council does not have a right to tell the police how to enforce the law.

Hoof felt that there were more diplomatic methods to handle such incidents, that the police could be covering other areas, and that Longhorn Days did not need such a large police presence because no fights had ever broken out.

Reserve Officer Mark Anderson said that merely discouraging underage drinkers was not enough. He painted a hypothetical picture in which, after having his/her alcohol dumped out, an intoxicated underage drinker would drive off and get into an accident. He added that would leave the city with a liability problem.

Hoof responded that too strong of a police presence might be of concern to the Longhorn Days committee since the organization is dealing with dwindling participation in the yearly festival.

Discussion continued with other members saying that the potential for incidents was there because of the beer consumption. Also, it was asserted that a large police presence could make people feel safer and the laws of the state also need to be enforced.

Angvall agreed that the number of officers could be cut down, but that the size of the event was not known ahead of time, and that it was better to err on the side of caution.

City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk added that sufficient police coverage was requested to stem the tide of people getting into the special events without paying. The council said it would discuss this issue for next year's Longhorn Days.

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