Reno police prepare once again for Hot August Nights

RENO - Months of preparation by law enforcement agencies are about to be tested as Reno launches its annual week of nostalgia called Hot August Nights.

The event is a tourist-grabbing tribute to classic cars, poodle skirts and rock 'n' roll from an earlier generation. It also has brought riots and wage disputes in the past.

Both agencies and downtown businesses are optimistic that this year's festival, which starts Saturday, will be smooth ride and an economic boon.

''Everyone looks forward to it,'' said Bette Adrianson, a clerk at Wild West Souvenirs on Virginia Street. ''Its the best time in the world for business. It's wall-to-wall people.''

It's up to the law enforcement agencies to manage the crowds, and every year they make adjustments based on the previous year's shortcomings. Changing the cruise route from two-way traffic to a one-way loop downtown will be the biggest adjustment for the upcoming festival, Deputy Chief Jim Weston said.

''We're trying to respond to complaints from the casinos and other businesses about access to their property when streets are closed off,'' he said.

In another change from last year, police will allow the event to run its course through the end of Sunday night, Aug. 5.

Last year, several event attendees criticized the police department for cutting the event short.

''We always get a number of complaints, but when you consider the thousands of numbers of people that show up, we figure two or three complaints is a pretty good track record,'' Weston said.

Unruly attendees and long hours for officers have dogged the event in past years. Police expect both this year but believe they've addressed the issues by staffing the event with every officer and paying them well.

Last year, the police union filed a grievance against the department, asking to be paid two-and-a-half times their normal pay as overtime compensation. At the time, they made time-and-a-half. An arbitrator upheld the union's request.

''We use as many volunteers as we can before we force any mandatory overtime,'' Weston said. ''The biggest issue is because the event is so long, and they work so many shift hours, they're physically drained by the time it's over. We try to make sure they're not working any extra hours the week before to make sure they're geared up.''

In 1998, a riot erupted in the heart of downtown, prompting police to don riot gear and fire tear gas as large crowds hurled beer bottles at them and overturned parked cars. Police arrested 208 people.

The following year, police added 25 officers to the 75 who patrolled the events in 1998, and outdoor alcohol consumption was banned. Weston said the measures helped produce fewer arrests and detainments.

Downtown business owners said they'll be satisfied as long as police maintain a presence and it's easy for cars and pedestrians to get around during the event.

''Hot August Nights doesn't scare me. I'm not boarding up my windows,'' said Terri Montague, owner of Esoteric coffee shop and art gallery at First and Sierra streets. ''I love to see the bicycle cops on the sidewalk.''


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