Arrests down during ‘Freakfest’ in Madison

City officials praised the event, which has been a blackeye in past years.

Jake Grovum

This year’s “Freakfest” in Madison, Wis., which draws swarms of University students, saw a substantial decrease in arrests for the second year in a row.

Last year, city officials started charging a $5 admission fee to enter party hot spot State Street, just one of the many attempts at controlling and organizing what has in the past turned into heavy drinking and rioting.

Overall, police made 181 arrests during the weekend, Madison Police Department Public Information Officer Joel DeSpain said. One hundred twenty-six of those occurred during the actual event and most of the arrests were made in the State Street area, he said.

Last year, police made 235 arrests during Halloween weekend, while 334 arrests occurred on Saturday night alone in 2005, according to Madison Police Department statistics.

“It never was predominantly UW students who were causing the problems,” he said. “The word has spread that we’re not going to tolerate trouble in Madison.”

Officials went as far as praising the event that has been a black-eye for Madison since 2002, when police had to resort to tear gas to quell rioting and looting – which would eventually become a frequent ending to the event.

“This was the most successful Halloween on State Street in several years,” Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said in a statement. “The gating and ticketing strategy we started last year has resulted in a whole new tone for the event. Halloween in Madison has been transformed in a positive way.”

“Thanks most of all to the thousands of people who attended Freakfest and helped make it a fun and peaceful event,” he added.

Overall, 34,000 tickets were sold to the event, a similar number to last year’s event.

In 2004, Cieslewicz was quoted in a Pioneer Press article saying Minnesotans made up one-third of the arrests.

“Stay home next year,” he said.

Now, the event is more akin to Spring Jam instead of Mardi Gras.

State Street was heavily patrolled by private security guards and officers on mounted and foot patrol. Before entering, police patted down participants.

Chris Bevan, a first-year University finance student, said police probably could have made more arrests during the event.

“There were a lot of drunk people talking to the cops, but it didn’t seem like they wanted to hassle the drunk people,” he said. “They were looking for bigger things like if somebody was starting a fight or something, they didn’t really care about the people that were drunk.”

Like Bevan, this was the first “Freakfest” for University accounting sophomore Ted Thompson.

“Obviously, everyone’s in danger if riots break out or people start being ridiculous and belligerent,” Thompson said. “They did what they had to do and most people had fun despite the increased police presence. I know I did.”

Frank Productions, a Midwest concert promoter, brought in Lifehouse as the main act, along with other University of Wisconsin student bands.

Corporate sponsors Mountain Dew, Milios and The Onion also changed the mood on State Street. Mountain Dew set up a tent and passed out energy drink samples while Milios sold sandwiches.

DeSpain said he expects even more sponsorship for next year’s event.

Lt. Kurt Pierce of the Dane County Sheriff’s Department was on the job for his fifth Halloween event in a row. He said police typically have a good time interacting with the crowd.

“Most of us are willing to pose for pictures as long as it’s something tasteful,” he said, as he and other officers were wrapping up patrol on State Street when the crowd peacefully moved off the seven-block stretch.

“It’s enjoyable as long as people are just here to have a good time Ö and hopefully not cause trouble,” he said. “Usually it’s only a small percentage of the people that do that anyway.”