Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jammin' in the Name of the Law...

(Apologies to Bob Marley)

It's truly amazing how a few breaths of nonsense can place into question over 10 years of common sense government oversight of a major public event.

Leroy Standish's reporting in yesterday's Daily Sentinel, coupled with the Sentinel's editorial today, seemed to attempt to champion the exasperation of County Commissioner Craig Meis as he vainly attempted to shed yet another responsibility of county government. It seems that Mr. Meis feels that an "exit strategy" is needed from the contracts that the Sheriff's Department has entered into with Country Jam for security services.

Had Mr. Standish ventured into his paper's morgue a little bit more, he wouldn't have had to weakly assert that "In the 1990s, there was a riot at Country Jam". The year was 1998, to be exact.

This was the first year that the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center provided on-site dispatch support to the MCSO at Country Jam.
I was there in a professional capacity, having assisted the previous two years as a volunteer amateur radio operator, and witnessing firsthand some of the chaos that necessitated a ramping-up of law enforcement operations.

A lot of attendees were already disappointed after Thursday night headliner LeAnn Rimes cancelled due to illness just before showtime. The Steve Miller Band had just concluded an extremely well-attended and well-received set on Saturday night. Over the week prior, locals who had rented several campground spaces (and parked a motor home across them) were promoting after-show campground parties in local papers. The advertised Saturday night event included a wet t-shirt contest.

When the Sheriff's Department and Country Jam management shut this down pre-emptively, the crowd that gathered became unruly, and soon the fight was on.

Since that unfortunate year, the event organizers and Sheriff's Department have worked together closely to identify problem areas and address them proactively. The arrival of Foremost Response, a more professional-than-average private security company, has given the MCSO an opportunity to reduce on-site resources, and focus on more egregious activity that is still at problematic levels at these festivals.

The lure of alcohol plays all too great a role at these events, from both a profit standpoint for the organizers and liquor companies to illegal and irresponsible use by participants, often with injurious and tragic results. There were reportedly fewer minors cited for possession or consumption this past June, but there were also a record number of DUI's.

The MCSO's Capt. Rusty Callow was right on the mark when he compared alcohol use at Country Jam as exceeding that of a community of 25,000. With these events, the second most populous city in Mesa County is being created, and that's just the campers. And every day is Mardi Gras.

Commissioner Meis' "frustration and concern" over providing these services, even in a reduced fashion, smacks of a disturbingly reactive, almost laissez-faire approach to providing for the public safety and welfare at a major public gathering in his area of influence and responsibility. Here's a news bulletin, Commissioner; the Country Jam Ranch is not a well pad, and alcohol is not fracing fluid.

Equally culpable is the editorial staff of the Sentinel for getting behind Mr. Meis on this issue.
Country Jam and Rock Jam are major events that compare to every other festival event in Mesa County like Samuel Adams compares to Keystone Light.

"Exit Strategy"? Terrain features notwithstanding, Mack is not part of Afghanistan. Nor is it up for annexation by Grand Junction or Fruita, so the Commissioners can't wash their hands of it via petition or Persigo agreement. So long as people imbibe, fight, steal, or otherwise take advantage of their fellow man, there will be a need for a visible law enforcement presence out there. Period.

The Sheriff and his staff are to be commended
for engaging in a well-organized, fiscally responsible effort to maintain order and enforce the law at Country Jam and Rock Jam, while remaining cognizant of the impact of such an event on staff and fiscal resources. The Sentinel was right about one thing; there aren't too many MCSO employees, but there is a lot of overtime when Jam time comes around.

The Sheriff's measured and professional response has its foundation in the solid operational planning and management structure that was the vision, and is now part of the legacy, of the MCSO Incident Commander at Country Jam during those crazy years; then-Operations Captain Bill Gardner.

I had a good day today. Got good grades on the first tests, and am looking forward to digging into the wonderful world of METARs and TAFs. If I sound annoyed, it's because I'm tired of talking about Country Jam, and done thinking about it. It's well past the time for County government to follow the Sheriff's lead, and quit whining.

Men and women in green, be safe out there.

Good night.


Daryl Branson said...

I respect the instinct of many to keep government's role small, but thinking that it's not the Sheriff's Office's job to prevent riots seems to be taking the concept a little too far. Requiring the event's organizers to provide their own security is a legitimate approach, but there would still need to be a law enforcement presence.

The little old mom who lived in a shoe said...

... but the riot was so much fun! :)