Riot Risk Remains at Oktoberfest, Chief Aceves Says; Future of Event Uncertain

Published Nov. 13, 2013 by La Mesa-Mount Helix Patch.

Though overall arrests and criminal incidents at Oktoberfest are down this year compared to 2012, the La Mesa City Council may place additional conditions on organizers in the future to prevent a riot, councilmembers said at a meeting Tuesday after a report by by Police Chief Ed Aceves.

For the last three years, crowds of hundreds of teens have congregated near the La Mesa Boulevard trolley stop and each time have created conditions that could lead to “mass panic,” Aceves said.

Carnival rides were taken away from the event this year to try and avoid rowdy teens. It didn’t work, Aceves told city council Tuesday.

An estimated 200,000 people were expected to attend this year’s Oktoberfest.

“The bottom line is if you tell me you have 200-300 kids that are looking to get into trouble we can control that but the problem is its going to look bad on us when that happens,” Aceves said. “I don’t think anyone wants an Oktoberfest where cops are in riot gear subduing teens.”

Members of the city council approved the permit for this year’s Oktoberfest in August amid concern about safety and security.

If La Mesa is like other cities who hold large events that get out of control, the Jewel of the Hills could be “one incident away from you saying we’re not going to have it,” he told city council.

Aceves recommends steps be taken to break “a clear pattern over the past three years of the event attracting an unruly crowd of young adults” beyond adding more volunteers or security staff.

“There was 200-300 young people gathered in there and you can just see if there was a gunshot all of a sudden or a knifing or a fight here could be a real riot atmosphere,” said City Councilwoman Ruth Sterling. “And I think this needs to be addressed before we approve another permit because were putting people at risk I think.”

Oktoberfest is organized by the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce and La Mesa Village Merchants Association.

Some business owners say money made at the weekend-long event is vital to their survival throughout the rest of the year, said chamber CEO Mary England.

A representative of the La Mesa Village Merchants Association, who organize vendors along La Mesa Boulevard, did not attend the meeting and did not respond to calls by La Mesa Patch for comment Tuesday.

“This is not an issue of poor management by the event sponsors, but just the nature of the event location, the time of operation and how times have changed in general.”

“Take back the city,” said Councilman Ernest Ewin, who suggested city council vote on an Oktoberfest permit by March 2014. “It’s the people’s event and we’re not going to just give it away.”

Activity that attracted police this year:

– 19 radio calls

– 7 arrests

– 15 parking citations

– 6 field interviews

By comparison in 2012 there were:

– 16 radio calls

– 23 arrests

– 9 parking citations

– 3 field interviews

Among seven arrests were made during Oktoberfest this year, which included 3 drunk in public, 1 DUI, 1 under the influence of a controlled substance charge, 1 vandalism charge and one battery charge.

The battery arrest came during a fight between two teenage girls near one of two police command posts where 200-300 teenagers gathered in the evening Saturday, Oct. 5. Ice cream was thrown at one of the officers who broke up the fight and arrested one of the teenage girls. Known gang members were seen in the area, Aceves said.

As the crowd near the fountain on La Mesa Boulevard dispersed, one teenager was seen jumping on cars in a parking lot in the 4700 block of Spring Street and arrested for vandalism. A short time later, another fight broke out outside Fire Station 11 on Allison Avenue.

“The fight, according to one of the girls, was over a Facebook posting,” Aceves said in his brief.

“The fights, gang members and large crowd of juveniles in a relatively small area of Oktoberfest, could once again have easily escalated into a riot-type situation,” Aceves said in his report.

“I feel like I should be able to send my high school daughter to Oktoberfest without fear for her safety but now for the second year I get calls that the police are going to be assaulted by these teenagers,” said Vice Mayor Kristine Alessio.

Juveniles, some of whom were wearing gang colors, officers  left Oktoberfest when a curfew was announced at 10 p.m.

“Social media most likely played a role in how many juveniles were at the event and how quickly their numbers swelled in such a short period of time,” Aceves said in his report. “It is likely we can expect this type of activity to continue at future Oktoberfest events if there is an open are for them to congregate.”

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