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Cops, Community Prepare For Greenville Halloween Celebrations

Thousands are expected to descend on Greenville this weekend for Halloween, an event local residents and law enforcement officers are embracing, and bracing themselves for.  Here’s Chris Thomas with this report.

This is Downtown Greenville. Cotanche Street, to be specific. It’s a typical Monday. You may occasionally see a student jaywalking with a friend or two across the street and you may occasionally hear the sound of tires against the pavement, but little else. Most of the shops – the restaurants, retail stores and tattoo parlors – close not long after the sun goes down. It’s quiet. Peaceful. All but deserted. This will not be the scene on these streets Saturday night.

“I heard it gets crazy!”

“Just masses of people gathering.”

“You know, you would just feel the tension of people trying to get to where they are and not really knowing if they’re going to get there at all because of the crowds gathering around you.”

Greenville has become the go-to spot for Halloween revelry in the region. Windows and glass doors along much of downtown area are covered with posters and fliers, advertising drink specials, concerts and dancing until deep into the night.  According to Ted Sauls, deputy chief of the Greenville Police Department, Downtown become a landing spot for party goers from within and out of the state.

“Of recent, I’ve heard Halloween here referred to as Hallo-week, and people use that almost as a vacation…and yes, we are seeing more out of town people coming to Greenville to include people from other universities, as well as people of adult age who are coming in from other states, even. I’ve seen people come 

Sauls is a 1997 graduate of East Carolina University, joining the Greenville Police Department the same year. He said Halloween has become a more spread out affair in the city over the years, with greater numbers of people opting to go to parties held at houses and apartments away from downtown.

“It can cause your resources to be somewhat thin. What we encourage people to do is to attend the event in the “uptown” area because we do screen, much like at a ball game…we make sure bags are safe, we make sure there are no implements that can be used as weapon and there’s a lot of…footprint there, if you will. Places they can go, establishments they can eat, places they can go into and have a drink if they choose.”

Still, thousands are expected to gather on 5th street to participate in, or observe, the downtown blowout. According to reports, more than 7,000 people came downtown last Halloween.

Sauls said his agency will joined by more than 100 additional law enforcement personnel – including highway patrol troopers and officers from agencies across Eastern North Carolina. Officers plan to keep watch downtown and at student housing complexes across the city. Sauls wants to remind those coming to Greenville this year that the town is more than a party destination – its home for tens of thousands of people.

“Just remember that this is our home. This is where we work, where we live, where we raise our kids, and to please treat our home like you would yours.”

The Greenville Police Department’s 2015 game plan – announced at a press conference Monday – is a far cry from the anarchy police officers and party goers experienced 40 years ago – on Cotanche Street.

The infamous 1975 Halloween night riots landed dozens of people in jail and resulted in multiple injuries to officers and students. According to reports and eyewitness accounts found in the fountainhead (the ECU campus newspaper at the time) and the Buccaneer, the university’s yearbook, revelers were given a warning from officers to Disperse – a warning many eyewitnesses report not to have heard – and when it went unheeded, a pepper spray like mist was dispensed into the crowd made up mostly of university students. More students arrived on the scene to protest that first round of arrests, a protest that blew into a full-scale clash with law enforcement representatives and resulted in more than $3,000 in damages, more than $13,000 today.

A similarly chaotic scene played out last year, when police arrived at the Riverwalk Apartments complex, north of the ECU campus. Beer bottles and “flash bangs” – a device used by law enforcement officers that simulates the sound and sight of an explosion – were exchanged between party goers and officers and an ECU transit bus was severely damaged.  Four men were arrested for allegedly inciting the riot.

Sauls called the event “disappointing” and ECU student affairs representative Chris Stansbury said it inspired the university to take action, including running direct, non-stop shuttles from campus to apartment complexes to prevent individuals from party hopping.

“When we run a route, it’s a loop. It starts at apartment ‘X’ then apartment ‘Y’ then apartment ‘Z’ then come back to campus. In this case, on Halloween night, we are only going to run point-to-point service, from that apartment complex back to Mendenhall Student Center and that will from 10:30 Saturday night until about 1 a.m. and that’s only going to run one way. So, you can go from an apartment complex to campus and from there, you can decide ‘do I want to go downtown, do I want to go on a different bus and go over to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium? You can do that.”

As has been the case for more than 25 years, the university will also provide activities on its campus where alcohol won’t be served.

“Having that opportunity to come together in a secure environment, in a place where they can have fun and dress up and do all that fun stuff. As a university, we feel like we should at least offer them that opportunity.”

Nathan Black, a writer and Greenville resident, said he’s opting to stay away from the downtown madness and plans on celebrating the holiday with friends elsewhere.  Black said he’s experienced his share of downtown Halloween jollity and, over all, it can be a burdensome experience.

“People, all crammed on these…street corners, just walking around, and they’re all just looking for their own…excitement amongst it all and that’s just the personal aspect. It’s not even…the people who might not know how to drive a car properly or the people who have warrants out for their arrest…that many people in one area – you’re gonna have problems.”

Black has lived in Greenville most his life and said a mix of factors create the raucous environment revelers can expect Saturday, including a university campus where the right kind of balance between work and play, and a deep sense of comradery, is easily found.

“It really does turn it into a holy day…an unholy day in some ways but…it does turn it into this time where the kids can just release, just…all the hair down.”

Sam Mello, who works downtown, said she also plans on staying away from 5th street Saturday, spending the evening with friends, but finding a way to watch it all from afar. This will be Mello’s first Halloween in Greenville after moving from Oxford, Mississippi earlier in the year.  Mello said Halloween in oxford – home of the university of Mississippi – is a relative after thought and she’s curious to see if Greenville’s reputation for Halloween mischief will live up to the hype – just from a safe distance.

“I’m interested to see it, but I’m not gonna be upset if I don’t get involved in all of that.”