"Halloween this year is an experiment," says George Twigg, spokesperson for Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. "The mayor wants to get away from past years and look at a new way of doing things."
The city hopes to keep the festivities from getting too rowdy by cutting off the entrance at 1:30 a.m. and providing food carts and music. But the hardest factors to control are consumption of drugs and alcohol.
"The entertainment will hopefully give people an alternative," says Twigg. During last year's Halloween, he notes, Dane County detox filled all eight of its slots, and three more people had to be transferred to local hospitals.
The cover charge will help offset the police enforcement and clean-up costs, which Twigg puts at $600,000 for 2005. A total of 400 officers from all Madison jurisdictions were working that weekend.
Police are also optimistic that past problems can be avoided.
"We want to minimize property damage and the impact on neighborhoods," says central police Capt. Mary Schauf. However, she says, "Our first priority is safety."
State Street partiers will be rowdy and there may be minor injuries from climbing bus shelters and moving in a large crowd, she says. But the problem is when a formerly peaceful assembly crosses a line of being unlawful.
"We try to let it not get to that point by using lesser tools and being engaging," she says. "Police throughout the night are talking with partiers, trying to keep that jovial atmosphere."
Schauf says police will try to remove aggressive people by making individual arrests and asking people to calm down. But the tables will turn if members of the crowd start to mosh, push police officers, or throw projectiles. She says that last year police became nervous when a large smoke bomb was tossed in the crowd.
When three or more partiers threat property damage or personal injury, Schauf says an assembly of people can be deemed unlawful. Under Wisconsin Statute 947.06, the police can announce over a megaphone that all people must disperse and leave the area. Those who don't comply are subject to forced removal or arrest.
When crowds don't respond to police requests and the partiers continue to throw bottles at police and each other, the command post may authorize pepper spray as a last resort.
"It's not a good situation because pepper spray can contaminate a large area," Schauf says. "Hopefully things will be different this year. People can come listen to music, get some food, and go to the next area."
Whether partiers have to leave at 1:30 a.m. and how the event will end is currently under discussion on the Facebook group, "Move Halloween to Langdon 2006," the precursor to the Halloween Action Committee. "You will not be forced off of State Street," writes group founder Tom Wangard on its discussion board. But at 1:30 a.m., efforts will be made to return State Street to its normal operation. "[T]he event is over after the last act and you will be asked to start heading out and staying on the sidewalks so the cleaning crews can get the job done in a reasonable time."