When it comes to special event response, the agency that plans for success, succeeds

La Crosse police work hard to keep the peace during Octoberfest, and this year, a perimeter protection plan was introduced to prevent a Waukesha-style attack


On November 21, 2021, police received a call for a fight at Hartwell and White Rock streets in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The man who instigated the disturbance escaped the scene as they arrived. He was driving a maroon Ford Escape.

The driver, Darrell Brooks, an unrepentant repeat offender, was free on a $1,000 bond after he “allegedly” tried to run down his wife with his vehicle and was using his free-on-bond status to terrorize her once again. After Brooks fled the scene, he elevated his criminality to viciously heinous new heights.

The parade

At that same moment, residents of Waukesha, Wisconsin were lining the streets to enjoy the annual Christmas Parade. Instead of joy they were brought death, pain and horror as they bore witness to an act of homicidal depravity.

Shortly after fleeing the scene of the earlier disturbance, Darrell Brooks barreled past police as he breached the perimeter of Waukesha’s annual Christmas Parade. An officer reported the attack by radioing in urgently, “Red Escape. Black male. I couldn’t stop it. He’s going westbound, blowing his horn and running over people.”

Brooks zig-zagged through the route, avoiding vehicles and deliberately striking people in the parade. He drove into one of the perennial crowd favorites, Milwaukee’s “Dancing Grannies,” killing Tamara Durand, 52; LeAnna Owen, 71; and Virginia “Ginny” Sorenson, 79; and a husband of one of the group members, William Hospel, 81. Brooks also killed 52-year-old Jane Kulich and 8-year-old Jackson Sparks, while injuring 60 others as well.

He was apprehended by officers, shortly thereafter, eating a sandwich on the porch of a resident’s house he did not know. 

This incident was just one of many the La Crosse Police Department kept in mind as they planned for Oktoberfest 2022. Here is an overview of this department’s approach to managing this event, which could be easily adopted by other agencies.

Police planning for La Crosse Oktoberfest 2022 kept Waukesha in mind

Since 1961, La Crosse, Wisconsin has hosted a “family fun” Oktoberfest fashioned after Munich’s Oktoberfest. Since the city experienced riots during Oktoberfest in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, it has always been an “all-hands-on-deck” affair for La Crosse police. Some years, officers had to make as many as 505 arrests in a single weekend when Oktoberfest was at its best or quell full-blown riots when it was at its worst.

The La Crosse Police Department has used its experience to fine-tune its response to the annual Oktoberfest.
The La Crosse Police Department has used its experience to fine-tune its response to the annual Oktoberfest. (Photo/Dan Marcou)

The La Crosse Police Department has used its experience to fine-tune its response, committed to being able to prevent large disturbances when possible, and respond effectively when necessary.

In keeping with its mottos of “prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” and “if you can imagine it prepare for it,” here's how the La Crosse Police Department prepared for Oktoberfest 2022:

  1. All officers are fully trained in crowd control using the “La Crosse method.” This approach combines classic crowd control tactics and Miami Field Force Tactics, with a mindset heavily weighted toward facilitating events’ legal intentions while having the capability of dealing quickly with problems at their inception.
  2. Officers attended a pre-fest training update to refresh all skills and be brought up to date with the 2022 plan.
  3. All officers were made aware of how they fit into the plan.
  4. Out-of-town officers were sworn in as temporary La Crosse police officers to supplement the force during the fest. Each officer has the authorization to wear their own department’s uniform and all are trained in crowd control.
  5. All officers are equipped with their own personal crowd control basic equipment, which is on hand in a nearby staging area in case the equipment is needed because of an escalation by the crowd.
  6. Squads are assigned to commanders who are working side by side with the officers. Commanders have the authority to make decisions on the street.
  7. The chief lets his commanders work but is on the street as well if needed.

La Crosse Police facilitate positive interactions

On Friday and Saturday nights the downtown bar area is completely closed off to facilitate the large street party. The bars are full to the walls, so the street allows for an overflow area. Officers are a high-profile professional presence close by.

A unique ingredient added to enhance officer interaction with the crowd are buttons that are as much a tradition in La Crosse since they were introduced in 1993 as beaded necklaces are in New Orleans. These buttons are redesigned each year and have the saying “I Am On My Best At Oktoberfest 2022.”

These buttons, which are given out by the thousands, help facilitate positive interactions between the public and the police.
These buttons, which are given out by the thousands, help facilitate positive interactions between the public and the police. (Photos/Dan Marcou)

The only way you can get a button is to have a positive interaction with an officer and ask for one. These buttons allow for thousands of positive interactions between the police and the crowd because they have become sought after by attendees. 

In 2022, a QR code was added to the back of the button. The code can be scanned with a phone to get information that is typically asked of officers, such as information about parking, cabs and the location of the aid station, which has become a meeting place for groups that get separated in the crowd.

The Waukesha-inspired perimeter protection plan

La Crosse set up an outer perimeter, which re-directs traffic with a standard, well-designed detour, sending all cars to streets running parallel to the bar area streets. It was easy to understand, even for impaired drivers, and functioned without a hitch.

The inner perimeter was heavily reinforced making a Brooks-style attack nearly impossible. Besides the standard traffic bucks, Sgt. Casey Rossman and Officer Trent Bowe, who possess Commercial Driver’s Licenses, were assigned to block all entrances to the downtown street party with large, orange city dump trucks, pictured below.

Photo/Dan Marcou

Police response

As always there was a large police presence in the downtown area protecting the partiers and maintaining the peace. The police department was bolstered by the out-of-town officers, who were partnered up with local officers.

Calls throughout the rest of the city were handled by “trouble cars” for quick response. The Wisconsin State Patrol assigns a healthy contingent of their troopers each year to assist La Crosse PD.

The aid station is centrally located and available for anyone in need. As usual, officers were kept busy this year, but their preparations ensured problems were manageable. At a glance, working officers were highly visible and appeared not only ready but also noticeably friendly and approachable.

After the event, La Crosse Assistant Chief Jason Melby declared the fest was a busy one for the La Crosse Police Department, but “a success.”

Conclusion

This success could be owed to the fact that this agency learned from the event's history of violence and not only implemented elements of past plans that proved to be successful but also added new elements to adapt to emerging threats.

There is an old adage, “The agency that fails to plan, plans to fail.” Therefore, even given the difficult challenges you face today, the opposite may also be true. That is, “The agency that plans for success, succeeds.”

Postscript

On November 16, 2022, Darrell Brooks was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of release, with the judge rejecting arguments from Brooks and his family that his actions were caused by mental illness. This is an example that proves the point that some criminals steal property from some of their victims, and the health and lives of others, but they steal the sense of security from all.

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