Niagara Gazette

August 26, 2013

Local law enforcement says Artpark concert crowds pushing them to breaking point

Local law enforcement: Artpark crowds pushing them to breaking point

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — Some weeks it’s a front row seat to a couple having sex on the hillside.

Others, it’s watching a woman body surfing on the roof of a speeding car leaving the upper parking lot.

For Greg Robertson, the owner of Greg’s Pools in Lewiston, there is no way to know just what he’ll see outside his Seneca Street business when Artpark’s Tuesday in the Park concert series crowds roll into the village.

“Actually, if anything, it’s gotten a bit better than they used to be when they were free,” Robertson says. “But it’s still bad.”

While the crowds for the concerts now tend to top out at 10,000 people, as opposed to some at 30,000 when the events were free, the combination of traffic, parking, drinking, littering and other quality of life and criminal issues still places a strain on local law enforcement. 

A Gazette review of incident reports during the times of concerts on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the summer shows the number of calls police respond to can be as much as 10 times higher than normal.

On a recent Tuesday, Lewiston police, who do get some assistance from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office and the New York State Police, handled 26 incidents and traffic stops before, during and after the Artpark concert. Those incidents included a driving while intoxicated arrest, two marijuana possession arrests, a public lewdness arrest, and multiple public drinking citations

Lewiston Police K-9 Officer Scott Stafford, and his partner Radar, have been around since the concerts started. They’ve seen the crowds at their best — and worst.

“The percentage of people acting up is actually small, but the way we deter (trouble) is with a heavy police presence,” he said.

On a normal concert night, while on patrol with Stafford, a reporter notes Lewiston Police have deployed two bicycle officers, two officers on ATVs and eight patrol officers in cars in addition to its K-9 unit. 

“We’re obligated to make sure we maintain safety in the community and keep the roads safe,” Stafford said. “We’re not discouraging (concertgoers) from having a good time, but we want them to be safe and responsible.”

Accomplishing that mission can be costly to the village and town of Lewiston.

“You can’t break the bank,” Stafford says of the sometimes daunting task he and fellow officers face.

Trying to help fill the manpower needs of the local police, Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour says he provides as much help as he can.

“We supplement (with patrol and auxiliary deputies) and so do the State Police,” Voutour said,”And we put the mounted division out.”

Undersheriff Michael Filicetti notes that sort of support does hit his budget’s bottom line.

“That’s the problem we have,” he said. “We have a budget and (supply manpower for the concerts) costs is extra This takes money from somewhere else.”

Voutour and Filicetii spent a recent Tuesday in the village before and during a concert. They saw they same problems that plague Robertson and his neighbors and the local cops.

“If (Lewiston Police) Chief (Christopher) Salada asks for help, we’re going to do whatever we can to help,” Voutour said. “But this is beyond what we budget for.”

The issue of providing additional support to local law enforcement to deal with concert related issues has been raised with Artpark officials before. Voutour said they were unresponsive.

“Artpark does nothing to support (public safety outside the park),” Voutour said. “Now that they charge (for the concerts), we suggested a $1 a ticket public safety surcharge. They weren’t interested.”

Attempts to discuss the burden of safety costs, outside the park during concerts, with Artpark officials were unsuccessful. Artpark President George Osbourne, through a spokesperson, told the Gazette he had “no comment” on the problem.

So the locals carry on.

“We don’t want to see the concerts end,” Robertson, of Greg’s Pools, said. “But this is a public safety issue and  they need to do something about it.”

In the meantime, Robertson will cope as best he can. He and his family will continue to stand guard by their business on Tuesday nights to make sure concertgoers don’t decide to take an unapproved swim in their outdoor display pools or otherwise get into trouble.

“A couple of weeks ago, there was a group tailgating across the street before the concert and one of them was so drunk he passed out,” Robertson said. “They put him in the front seat of (the pickup truck) and then one of them came to me and said, ‘Here’s my cell phone number. Can you keep an eye (on the drunk guy) and call me if there’s a problem?’ “