Cord Editorial: WRPS exaggerating St. Paddy’s riot threat

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CordUnsignedThis year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on Ezra Ave. were the largest ever, but were nonetheless perceived as peaceful and a public safety success. Law enforcement, the university, the community and students helped formulate the consensus that the street party, while at times unruly, never crossed the line.  A gathering of 7,000 people in any capacity is going to be challenging for law enforcement, but the event went smoothly and students took pride in the positive police response following this year’s festivities.

Police were immersed in the crowd, dealt with the minor incidents that arose and refrained from fear mongering or aggressive tactics.  However, two months after the events on Ezra, the police are changing their tone. According to police now, a riot could have erupted at any time and there are serious concerns for public safety. The Waterloo Regional Police Board was informed earlier this month that the Ezra gathering was “one inch away” from turning into a riot.

Anyone who was on Ezra that day knows that it was far from a riot. Furthermore, implying a riot was possible is not constructive for police or public safety.  Using the word riot without justification could prompt a response from next year’s group of students and could also result in a change in police strategy.  If police wrongly treat the situation like a riot instead of actively policing like they did this year, the situation could worsen. However, Ezra has become tradition and will likely draw an even bigger crowd next year.

Police board chair Tom Galloway thinks the public needs to know how close this was to being a riot. Perhaps the public should instead be concerned about the inconsistency of messages police are sending to the community. The police deserve credit for starting the conversation early, but the conversation needs to be based in reality. Claiming there was a near riot on Ezra is a huge disservice to the police, who successfully managed the crowds, and the students who were not there to riot but celebrate with friends.

Fortunately, Waterloo police, the community and students have ten months to make amends before next year’s events which will see the largest crowd but hopefully ends at least two inches away from a riot. Whatever that means.

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