MADISON, Wis. -- To avoid the rioting that previously marred a downtown Halloween party that attracts up to 100,000 people, city leaders imposed new restrictions and tighter controls on this year's event.
Police arrested 68 people early yesterday morning after the opening night of the celebration, significantly lower than the number of arrests after the party's start last year. Police spokesman Mike Hanson did not list the charges, but said 13 of those arrested were taken to jail.
Last night, police were limiting access to the celebration and planned to make sure that costumed revelers left after bars and restaurants closed. Last year, 447 people were arrested and police also used pepper spray to quell a crowd of about 2,000.
The party was reorganized this year by city and campus leaders who are tired of the violence.
Although the city has not officially sanctioned the event, it sold tickets this year for access to State Street, a pedestrian-only avenue lined with bars, restaurants, and shops. Police planned to block off streets to enforce the $5 admission fee. City officials also lined up bands to play on two stages at either end of State Street. They gave the event a start and end time -- 7:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. -- and a name, "Freakfest on State Street."
Organizers hoped that controlling access to the party would put a damper on rowdy behavior. They also hoped ticket sales would help to recoup some of the police costs, which were estimated at $600,000 last year.
"Our hope is that we can get through this year without having to use pepper spray or have cops in riot gear," Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said.
But the city is making no promises. A website it created with details about the event carries a disclaimer: "The City of Madison cannot and does not guarantee your safety at this event. You enter the event area at your own risk and are responsible for your own actions and safety."
Police presence this year was comparable to the past, with 225 officers on duty Friday night and more than 250 on duty yesterday.
Based on ticket sales in the weeks heading up to "Freakfest," the changes were not going over well with people looking to party. Just 8,500 of the 80,000 tickets printed had sold as of Thursday.
Tom Wangard, a University of Wisconsin-Madison sophomore, and other students initially argued for changing the location of the party to a nearby street to avoid the city's interference. But after working with city officials, Wangard said he supports the event and expected it to be a success. But he also said there is always a potential for rioting.
In 2002, revelers threw rocks and bottles, breaking at least 12 windows and damaging police cars before officers broke out the tear gas.
In 2003, store windows were broken and at least two cars were tipped over. Then, in 2004, a small bonfire started. Police used pepper spray to break up the crowd and arrested 450 people.