By Alec Luhn
After a fiasco over mismanagement of private security at last year’s Freakfest, Madison has contracted a new security firm for this year’s event.
Milwaukee-based firm RTM will replace APA of Madison Inc., which the city hired to staff the 2006 State Street Halloween celebration with 100 security personnel. Even after officials renegotiated the contract to require 75 security workers, only 47 were present at the event, forcing the city to pay 28 of its own employees overtime to staff the gates.
City officials are confident RTM will do a better job at the second annual Freakfest.
“They have a lot of experience and are well-established, so they should be a reliable security provider,” said mayoral spokesman George Twigg.
Frank Productions, the company tapped by planners this year to oversee ticket sales and set up entertainment and sponsorships for Freakfest, recommended the city hire RTM for gate security, according to Twigg. The promoter has a separate contract with RTM for concert security at the three stages on State Street.
“Where city workers were filling the gaps last year, now RTM will be filling in,” said Frank Productions Vice President Dave Maynard.
Over 100 RTM staffers will be on hand at Freakfest for both gate and concert security, according to Maynard. RTM referred all questions to the mayor’s office.
RTM security personnel will work alongside officers from the Madison, Capitol and University of Wisconsin police departments, with state and county police on standby, according to Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain. Madison and University police declined to give exact numbers due to security concerns.
Although the Madison Police Department is still finalizing security plans, a Madison police chief will oversee all aspects of Freakfest security from a downtown command post, according to DeSpain. Besides the MPD horse patrol and a “full contingent” of officers on foot, police will install surveillance cameras to identify potential problems during the event.
Police will remain in the background for the most part, DeSpain said, although officers will arrest anyone carrying glass containers or otherwise breaking the law at Freakfest.
“Now it’s a professionally run event with corporate sponsors, we’re moving from a police event to something like Summerfest,” he said.
DeSpain said police hope to build on last year’s successes and make fewer arrests at this year’s celebration. At Freakfest 2006, police arrested 143 people, compared to 334 people on the same day in 2005.
“We’re hoping the knuckleheads responsible for rioting years ago won’t come back,” DeSpain said. “We believe last year we turned the corner, and we’re hoping to improve on those successes.
An estimated 35,000 people turned out for last year’s event, and this year officials are anticipating a number closer to the cap of 50,000 tickets, according to Maynard. Even if the crowd does grow, the city is not expecting security to be a major issue, Twigg said.
“This year with higher profile bands there could be more, but more people doesn’t necessarily mean more problems,” he said.
Although Freakfest coincides with the UW Homecoming football game against Indiana, organizers said the overlap would only benefit the celebration by drawing UW alumni and fans.
“That’s what we’re looking for, people who have a connection to Madison, to be at this event,” Maynard said. “They feel more of a sense of ownership in the city.”
The city has $20,000 budgeted for security expenditures, although the combined cost of security and law enforcement at last year’s event was over $800,000, according to Twigg. He expects ticket sales to bring in $130,000 to $150,000.
Maynard said RTM security personnel are prepared to handle whatever crowd control issues may arise. Frank Productions relies on RTM for security at most of its events because of the company’s experience and reputation, he said.
RTM has done security for large concerts and sporting events around Wisconsin. The Alliant Energy Center hires the firm for almost all the performances it hosts, according to Alliant Energy Center Sales and Marketing Director Ted Ballweg.
“We’ve always been impressed with their ability to deal with anything,” Ballweg said. “To hear they’re the vendor for security at Freakfest is very reassuring.”
At the Alliant Energy Center, the firm has handled everything from heavy metal concerts to Madison’s annual Bratfest, which drew around 80,000 people to center grounds this year, Ballweg said.
State Street business owners have also been impressed with the records of Frank Productions and RTM.
“I haven’t heard any concerns about security from downtown businesses,” said Madison Central Business Improvement District Executive Director Mary Carbine. “Between the MPD and their experience with this event and Frank Productions and their experience with arena concerts and security, we feel we’re in good hands.”
DeSpain said he hopes this year’s Freakfest will hearken back to the spirit of Halloween fun he remembers from his days as a UW-Madison student in the early ‘80s.
“Word’s gotten out that things have changed,” he said. “We’re hoping people will behave themselves so they can wake up and watch the Packers the next day.”
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