Chief Meyers discusses Fred Fest with village officials

Fred Fest 2013 may be over but talk about it continued during the workshop session of the Fredonia Village Board.

After Trustee Susan Mackay said it was really rowdy during this year’s event, Police Chief Brad Meyers offered some reasons why that might have been the case. Meyers cited some colleges that didn’t hold their usual events, SUNY Fredonia having less of an on-campus event, and 70 degree sunny weather as contributing to the larger-than-usual number of participants.

“I guess the way I will be putting it is beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I thought that it went as well as it possibly could given the number of people in the community and the number of parties that were being held in various locations throughout the community,” Meyers stated. “A couple of things everyone needs to keep in mind. I really don’t have the jurisdiction to remove people from a roof. I don’t, it’s not a law enforcement, I can’t tell people to get off the roof.”

Mackay said she didn’t need a full report but Meyers said he wanted people to hear about Fred Fest.

“You could invite all the police in the world, you can’t make people get off a roof. Is it not the brightest thing in the world, yes, but these are adults on private property who can do that if they choose to,” he stated. “One of the questions that came up from an employee of the college is, would the village consider passing a local ordinance that prohibited more than four people on a roof for any reason that wasn’t constructural in nature.”

Meyers said he didn’t think such an ordinance was necessary but it was up to the board to decide. Post-Fest trash was also a concern and it was noted the village had two employees working overtime Sunday to clean up. Meyers stated that beach bars don’t serve in glass containers, a policy he wished local establishments used.

“The other thing I want to say is underage possession of alcohol is a non-custodial arrest. You can’t bring those people to jail so what happens is you give them an appearance ticket, they’re told to enjoy the rest of the weekend, but don’t drink. Right there on the scene,” Meyers said. “So having more police officers you may get more open container arrests, but it’s not what we think it is. It’s not the deterrent that perhaps some of you are envisaging, some of the public is envisaging.

“They’re not getting handcuffed, they’re not getting put in the back of a police car, they’re not getting brought down to the police department, they’re not being held for bail. That’s not legal, under the (underage drinking) law that’s a non-custodial arrest and there’s actually some debate among scholars as to whether or not that’s supposed to be a criminal summons sent to them in the mail, not even an appearance ticket. But we use the appearance ticket and we’ll wait for the attorneys to tell us otherwise.”

Meyers added that during past Fests the presence of State Police and Sheriff’s Department officers didn’t provide a great deal more onsite presence.

“Oftentimes they get a DWI and they’re gone, because a DWI takes two to four hours to process. So you call in these people and they come in, they get a DWI arrest and they’re gone,” he explained. “We practice defense. We do a lot of warnings. Dump it out, find a container to put it in. … We don’t want our people tied up any longer than necessary because we need high visibility. We want to be seen constantly, so we issue a lot of warnings for these types of events in lieu of arrests.

“This particular weekend, well people will say the arrests are down. Don’t look at that as a measuring stick. The arrests were down because they never really came downtown, they stayed at these house parties for a very, very long time. … We needed to stay mobile, we needed to stay in cars. We didn’t put a whole bunch of people on the beat because we were constantly going to the outskirts for these parties and when you’re doing that you can’t make a lot of arrests, you’re just not in a position to do it. So that’s really my take on it.”

Mackay said she was interested in discussions before talk turned to registering parties.

“I didn’t realize the fire marshal can’t issue an order to get people off a roof because it’s a hazard,” she added. “Over 400 kids in a house is beyond reasonable occupancy. … We did this many years ago, (former Trustee) Gary Damico and I, we wrote up where a landlord should be called for a disorderly house.”

Meyers said the letter goes out to landlords of problematic houses. He said this Fred Fest, landlords were calling him with party alerts. Meyers added officers went to at least six houses with multiple apartments and cautioned tenants on liability issues.

“We had very candid conversations with them about that, so we tried to get out in front of it. … I did tell the landlords that if I had a significant financial investment of value I would probably be there to keep a watch on my investment,” he added. “It’s really not my job, nor do I have any kind of power, to protect that investment, and I will say that I had landlords standing shoulder to shoulder with me that night, watching their investments.”

Mackay said the event was destructive and the amount of kids involved was “outrageous.” Trash was a concern, along with destruction of personal property, which at least one board member had happen to their property.

“I will say that part of the garbage, my opinion, part of the garbage is a byproduct of the keg law. When it costs you $250 in deposits to get a keg, everybody starts drinking cans of beers,” Meyers stated. “Years ago you got up in the morning and picked up plastic cups, now you’re picking up bottles and cans.”

Mackay noted she did see students picking up Sunday morning and thanked them for the effort. Mackay added she cleaned up areas while the students just watched her pick up their garbage.

“There’s no culture. The college has to address that. It’s way beyond that. … I think we’ve got to come up with some restrictions,” she stated. “There’s no reason for the village to be held hostage. Basically, that’s how we feel.”

In response to a question from an audience member, Keefe said Fred Fest wasn’t really the village’s party.

“You have people that are here. Do they have the right to go downtown? It’s part of being a college community and what we’re looking for is a mutual respect,” he explained. “We respect their right to come downtown and they respect downtown’s cleanliness. … Use social skills. It’s a fine line.”

Meyers said passing a Social Host law would help with holding tenants accountable. He explained the law would hold tenants responsible for what happens, whether they are present or not – similar to liability responsibilities for homeowners.

“I also have to be honest. That wouldn’t have any effect that particular weekend because I wouldn’t have been able to find the tenants,” he added. “After the fact we would have been able to bring them in and pursue charges, but that night no one was going to step forward.”

Meyers added that two walks by officers down Canadaway Street went well, as partiers left when requested, returned two hours later, then left again when requested.

Meyers said he would have been criticized by his peers for the two walks officers took down Canadaway Street, leaving their vehicles while not wearing helmets and body armor when roofs were filled with drinkers.

“We take a very softsell spirit of cooperation, a lot of shaking hands, a lot of good communication skills, and they did cooperate,” he added. “Garbage, I can live with garbage. As a cop, I’ll take garbage all day long. It’s destruction of private property, it’s bodily harm to people that’s at issue here. But garbage, I’m great with garbage.”

Meyers said he will be attending a forum today from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Williams Center in regard to Fred Fest. Meyers said the original email invited everyone with any interest to attend.

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