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Saturday, November 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 46.0° F  Fog/Mist
The Daily
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The end of a tradition?
For the first time in years, State St. doesn't stink of pepper spray after Halloween festivities

Madison Ald. Mike Verveer was almost gleeful.

"I'm exceedingly pleasantly surprised," he said at 2:40 am, early Sunday morning. "I'm in the command post now and they're packing up and going home. The only police left on State are those patrol cars avoiding the street sweepers. Half of State Street is clean and it's only bartime now."

In recent years, Verveer had been among the group of city officials and police leadership fretting over the necessity of using pepper spray and other measures to quell a late-night crowd intent on destruction of property at worst and a brush with confrontation at best.

But this year, thanks in no small part to a $5 admission fee and a series of gates that controlled entry and exit to State St., the crowd was measurably smaller and less agitated. Police estimate 35,000 people entered the area, down from estimates of as much as 100,000 in past years. Official reports put the two-night arrest total at 230, compared to 566 in 2005.

"I think it was a great success,'" said Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. "We met all three of the goals I had for the event. We didn't have to use pepper spray or riot gear, we reduced the amount of the over-consumption of alcohol, and we've recovered a significant portion of the costs. I couldn't be happier. I think the bottom line is that we've started to rebuild public support for this event."

That might be true on a city-wide level, where residents had often been critical of a police department that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to try and control the event while still winding up on national news in riot gear at night's end. But among students and younger downtown residents accustomed to a packed and rowdy free-for-all in Madison's downtown entertainment district, this year's developments were disappointing.

Still, some managed to gravitate toward minor crowd rebellion, gathering in a couple knots in the 400 and 500 blocks of State at one point to engage in infamous UW football game chants and the ubiquitous international soccer song "Ole!"

Jesse Russell of Dane101 noted a few groups chanting, curiously, "USA! USA!" at around 1:30 a.m. Shortly thereafter, as noted in live report of Saturday night's events, that activity quickly quieted and the street was quiet nearly a half-hour later.

"It's calm, cops are just clearing out the last stragglers," said Daily Cardinal photo editor Chris Guess at 1:30 a.m., Standard Time. "The bars aren't empty yet, but they will be in 20 minutes or so."

"It's deader than even a Thursday night," said CRASH Madison organizer Phil Ejercito. "In the time it took to get nachos from an absolutely filthy Taco Bell, the crowd has dispersed."

Verveer, an assistant district attorney in addition to his role on the City Council, wasted no time in putting the event in perspective. As the chief liason between the young residents of his downtown district and the city, he is often pulled in two directions on Halloween.

"The fact that it's only bar time and the event is over is unbelievable," he said. "Bottom line, I'm obviously very pleased, and obviously ecstatic it did not have to end for a fifth year in a row with pepper spray. It's a tremendous victory."

Read more of the details, including reports from several officials and observers present on State St. throughout Saturday night, see here.

Note: This report was based on reporting from Kristian Knutsen.

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