Marilyn Monroe, Neytiri, Bob Marley, Pikachu and the Little Mermaid danced to the impromptu beats of a drum circle on closed-off Pacific Avenue. People on stilts towered over the crowd and a group of zombies performed choreographed dance moves to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” blasting from a boombox.
Thousands took to the streets of downtown Santa Cruz on Halloween night — and helicopters, gang specialists and over a hundred police officers joined them.
Zach Friend, spokesman for the Santa Cruz Police Department, said the turnout on Halloween has grown exponentially over the past six or seven years.
“Halloween night is the largest unsanctioned event we have in Santa Cruz,” Friend said. “This isn’t an official organized Santa Cruz event. We usually have up to about 25,000 people here downtown on Halloween night, which is about half the city’s population — in one square mile.”
Police made 40 arrests this year, 32 of which were for public intoxication. Other charges included drug possession, violation of parole and battery.
Santa Cruz resident Mark Ruiz, who attended the event, said Halloween is “pretty crazy.”
“Pacific Avenue is generally pretty safe, but the side streets are where things get shady,” Ruiz said. “I definitely suggest walking in a group, because it can be very dangerous when you’re running solo, especially for a girl.”
Public intoxication and rowdy crowds were commonplace, but there were no reported cases of shootings or stabbings this year. There were seven gang-related stabbings on Halloween of 2006 and two on the Halloween of 2007.
Over the last couple of years, police forces have stepped up enforcement to maintain public safety, augmenting the security budget for the event to $60,000, up from about $40,000 last year.
Costs cover lighting, police overtime and other expenses for what is essentially one large downtown party. This year, according to Friend, actual costs ran between $45,000 and $50,000.
“Every police agency in the county is providing law officers to patrol this event,” Friend said on Halloween. “We have over 100 officers that are here tonight, which includes probation and parole agents. We also bring in some gang specialists from Santa Clara County and the Salinas area.”
Police officers patrolled the premises all evening, attempting to prevent violence before it could take place.
This year, the focus was on removing possible threats before problems began. A unanimous motion by city council allowed police to issue triple fine tickets to discourage law violations.
“If we see someone that’s intoxicated who may become an issue, we get them off the street early before it rolls into something else,” Friend said. “If you’re caught with an open container, it’ll cost you about $500 tonight, so be sure to put your beers away.”
The preventative measures and increased law enforcement presence lessened crime downtown on Halloween night. Attendees said they appreciated being able to feel secure.
“This is my first Halloween at downtown Santa Cruz,” first-year Juliet Ulibarri said. “The vibes are really good from everyone, and I haven’t felt any sense of danger at any point of the night. I feel secure with the fact that there are so many police officers roaming around everywhere.”