WPRS warn St. Paddy’s ‘a recipe for larger problems’

St.Paddy's Day-Shelby
About 7,000 students gathered on Ezra Ave. on March 17. (Photo by Shelby Blackley)

A month and half after approximately 7,000 people flooded Ezra Ave. for St. Patrick’s Day, the Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) is sending a strong warning to their board — the event needs to be controlled or disaster may occur.

“One of the reasons we wanted to take this to our police services board was to make them aware,” explained Supt. Pat Dietrich, one of the officers involved with bringing a report on St. Paddy’s day with Supt. Kevin Chalk to the WRPS board on May 1. “When you get thousands in a really small area like that with heavy drinking going on, it’s kind of a recipe for larger problems, if there’s one trigger-type event.”

To the WRPS, the St. Paddy’s day bash, which included a lot of drinking, partying and extremely dense crowds, could have easily turned into a “riot.” According to the report, the event caused over $50,000 worth of damages. Charges of assault, trespassing, mischief, theft and breaking and entering, as well as drinking violations, were laid on March 17. The report also claimed that there was a 25 per cent increase in the number of people on Ezra this year compared to last year. Although the majority of the people on Ezra that day were mainly students from Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo, 30 to 40 per cent of attendees, the report added, weren’t from the Waterloo community.

The WRPS, however, still maintain that the event was relatively safe.
“95 per cent of the people in attendance are there to have a good time, they’re not there to cause any problems at all, but the issue is that the event is getting so big,” added Dietrich. “I think overall it was a success. I don’t think we can take away from the fact that considering the amount of people in the area, the event went very well, but I attribute that a little bit to good luck.”

If a situation was to occur — the “spark” as Dietrich called it — then the number of police officers on scene, though many, would have difficulty managing a crowd that big.

“If you have that one spark, the amount of officers … is totally insignificant to manage a crowd that size,” continued Dietrich, noting that the riots in London, Ont. last year is still in the memory of many police services in cities with post-secondary institutions.

While no one was seriously injured, Olaf Heinzel, pubic affairs coordinator for the WRPS, noted that the density on the street would have made it very difficult for emergency services to get to someone who was.

“We don’t want to see any tragedies. We have to look at the reasonable solution to this,” he said. “Where else in the Region would you allow the equivalent to an impromptu street party? It just doesn’t happen in other walks of life.“

No plans or precautionary measures for next year’s St. Paddy’s events have been determined by the WRPS. Dietrich and Heinzel both asserted that students and the universities are going to be involved in that discussion.

“We’re looking to the students for some solutions as well, we don’t want to impact negatively on their desire to get together and have some fun,” said Heinzel.
Adam Lawrence, who was the acting dean of students at Laurier for the past year, noted that the university is discussing with WRPS and the city to come up with ways to keep the event under control.

“Students had fun and they felt safe, but [in the] weeks following, a few students came forward about some stolen goods,” said Lawrence. “Their comments about being, like a ‘punch’ or  ‘beer bottle throw’ away from a riot, I don’t know, [but] the police that were out there did an incredible job.”
Discussions will take place within town and gown committees to come up with different approaches to handle future events at such a scale in Waterloo.

“It’s something that we need to look at collectively,” said Dietrich.

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