, Salem, MA

November 5, 2013

Our view: Balancing safety, fun in Salem

The Salem News

---- — It could have been the unsettled weather or the extra security precautions. Maybe everyone got their celebrating out of their system the night before, when the Red Sox won the World Series at home for the first time in 95 years.

Whatever the reason, this year’s Halloween-night celebration in Salem was downright calm when compared to years past.

Salem police reported only six arrests Thursday night, with five before midnight in the downtown area, which was jam-packed with tens of thousands of revelers from across the region, state and country.

“This is a result of planning, zero-tolerance and making it family-friendly,” police Chief Paul Tucker said. The half-dozen arrests are a far cry from days past, when as many as 75 revelers would be taken into custody on Halloween night and stabbings and assaults were common.

To their credit, over the past several years, city officials have made it a point to learn from Halloweens past. They have worked with bar owners to enforce closing times and to make sure the streets aren’t flooded with overserved, costumed revelers. And the fireworks display, a relatively new event, has provided a signal that the night is over and it’s time for folks to head home for another year.

This year’s event, of course, was the first since the Boston Marathon bombings.

In preparation, Salem and MBTA police in June held a drill simulating a similar situation — a fireworks-filled backpack going off inside a crowded train car in the commuter rail tunnel. A few weeks ago, Salem police met with their state police counterparts to learn about security measures at Boston’s July 4 fireworks and Head of the Charles Regatta.

“We went over everything,” Salem police Capt. Brian Gilligan told reporter Tom Dalton last week, before thousands of visitors descended on his city. “It was reassuring to find out we do many similar things.”

Some of the improvements were state-of-the-art — state police also provided portable surveillance cameras to cover “blind spots” (Use of a state police helicopter, which was to feed live video and photographs to Salem police laptops and iPads, was scuttled due to the weather). Others, like roping off the middle of Essex Street to allow a two-way flow of foot traffic, were decidedly low-tech but no less effective.

The security measures did not put a damper on fun. Beverly’s favorite “American Idol” contestant, Angie Miller, came across the bridge for a crowded concert on Salem Common, and several teams’ worth of bearded Red Sox “players” wandered the streets of the city, along with numerous Ghostbusters, Walter Whites, zombies, witches and ghouls.

We agree with Destination Salem Executive Director Kate Fox, who told Dalton, “It was a good night.”

It was a good night. See you next October.