Friday, May 14, 2010
Preakness and the Running of the Drunks
Buz looks back on Preakness, which is tomorrow, with a mixture of shaking my head, disdain, and skepticism. I'm told it's all about the money; and that's nice, but you have to wonder if it is really worth it sometimes, as the city and the racing "industry" loses all moral authority regarding the infield.
If tomorrow is as hot and humid as today was, the drinking will be heavy, and the trouble will be brewing.
When I was promoted to Captain in 1990 ( I know, I know, a couple of years ago), I was sent to be the deputy commander of the Northwestern District, where Pimlico is located. But it was in August, so I missed the Preakness that year. I later learned that 1990 was one of the worst years we had as far as policing the neighborhoods around the track went. Officers would attempt arrests by themselves, not realizing that one knucklehead was often with a pack of others--all drunk, rowdy, and feeling that all rules were dismissed for the day. (they just came from the infield, so who could blame them). The officer would then get attacked as the friends tried to release and liberate their arrested friend. As other officers responded to the call for assistance, they often couldn't get thru because of the traffic, so they abandoned their cars and ran several blocks, thus causing even more traffic chaos with the police cars blocking the street. There were assaults, several arrests, and chaos lasting the remainder of the day.
In '91, I was asked to plan the district's deployment for the neighborhoods surrounding the track on Preakness day, and was able to create a plan for using the Northwestern cops in a more planned, sensible and strategic manner. I'm modestly proud to say the in the remaining 5 years I was at NWD, problems were minimal, and arrests were a handful. I left right after the 1995 Preakness to go downtown to spearhead the privatization of the fire and police medical services.
But, I remember thinking: Why is the city providing several hundred police to the Pimlico Infield on behalf of a private firm, not to support horse racing, but instead to subsidize drunken brawls, anti-women behavior, racist actions by semi-thugs, and under age drinking?
I remember one year at a planning meeting, where a high-ranking police official asked that black officers not be stationed around the music stage, since they were the special targets of beer-can throwers. The favorite sport of the day (someone said there was a horse race?) was taking a can of beer, popping the top, and when almost full, throwing it at someone/anyone. It didn't have to be a cop. Everyone between the thrower and the target would get beer on them! And when it hit you it hurt! Wow! Where could you hope to ever find such fun!
One Tactical sergeant told me one year that "they shut us down; we lost the stage.": the music at the stage couldn't continue since so many beer cans were being thrown. So, the music stopped. The show did not go on.
No real, legitimate bar in their right mind, thinking of liability, would tolerate or allow such behavior--much less allow folks to bring their own beer in. No security consultant worth their salt, I don't think, would recommend such behavior be encouraged.
Of course, with cops working in squads of 1 sergeant with 8-12 officers, and dozens of officers assigned to the infield at one time, they would go in en masse, as a group, and grab trouble makers and escort them thru the infield tunnel and deposit them outside the track where Northwestern personnel would "persuade" them to leave the area. The police on the infield did not have sufficient personnel to make arrests, so unless the "patron" assaulted an officer, he was simply thrown out. Needless to say we weren't surprised when there was the incident when cops removed their badges and name tags and engaged in a bit of use of force.
I suggested, one year, to the high-ranking official of the track--since there was so much concern over the fighting, that they simply forbid bringing in outside drinks, but sell booze themselves. He dismissed my idea (circa 1992) offhand, saying you know, the sports clubs, fraternities, and teams then wouldn't come; however, we will raise the infield price. Oh.
I was also really pleased the Ed Norris, told Pimlico officials, finally: ya gotta deal with the infield yourselves; we're phasing our involvement out.
Last year, I didn't find a video of the infield worth mentioning. I did however, see plenty the year before during the running of the urinals. And it appeared the private security force was a bit over matched, and not really wanting to get into it with these muscled, sweaty steroid-enhanced drunks. We'll see how they do this year.