Can Hot August Nights riots happen in Douglas? | RecordCourier.com
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Can Hot August Nights riots happen in Douglas?

by Sheila Gardner

With nothing on the menu stronger than root beer, it’s unlikely that Friday’s Hot Valley Nights will erupt into the chaos of Reno’s Hot August Nights.

But Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini, a veteran of 20 New Year’s Eve celebrations at Stateline, knows how quickly a rowdy crowd fueled by alcohol can get out of hand.

“I don’t know what happened in Reno,” Pierini said Tuesday. “I talked to Washoe County Sheriff Dick Kirkland yesterday and we’re planning to send a couple of our officers to their debriefing to talk about what we do and learn what we can do better.”

Approximately 280 people were arrested Saturday night in Reno as law enforcement officers attempted to quell a riot. Following numerous allegations of police brutality, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada has requested an official review.

Pierini said he was not contacted by Washoe County authorities to be on stand-by or provide assistance.

With 25,000 to 50,000 people jammed into the Stateline casino core on New Year’s Eve, Pierini said the Douglas sheriff’s deputies and the law enforcement officers emphasize restraint.

“We have a real nonadversarial role with the participants. If something happens – if there is a fight in the crowd or a ruckus – we deal with it as a safety measure but we don’t try to aggravate the crowd,” Pierini said. “When the crowd gets aggravated, they take it out on the officers or other people. We don’t want an incident to happen because an officer got out of control.

– Compliments, not complaints. Pierini said the DCSO usually receives compliments from the Stateline community once the New Year’s Eve fracas is over and he has never received a complaint from the ACLU.

“The key to our success is planning,” Pierini said. “We start planning immediately after the event happens every year. We have a debriefing with casino officials and security personnel and all the law enforcement agencies who participated. We talk about if there is anything we can do differently.”

Pierini also said the entire event is filmed so authorities can review what happened on videotape.

“Our philosophy is that we know this event is going to happen. We try not to be adversarial with the crowd, but if somebody does get out of line, we handle it. We spend a great deal of time instructing our people on how we want the crowd to be treated. Most of our officers have been doing this a number of years and have a good idea of what to expect,” Pierini said.

– Year 2000. Pierini said he’s particularly concerned about the celebration in the year 2000.

“We’re planning for this year, of course, but it’s the year 2000 celebration that we’re really concerned about,” Pierini. “We’re expecting a huge number of people and the problem is going to be where do we get the resources. Every community will have a similar type of event. We’re not going to be able to pull officers from Reno or Carson City.”

Reno officials said the Hot August Nights melee was caused by gang members and out-of-towners who were looking for fights.

Sgt. Lance Modispacher, who’s been on the New Year’s Eve detail since 1982, said in recent years a few gang members have shown up at Stateline.

“Some individuals appear to be from South Lake Tahoe,” Modispacher said. “We don’t pick them out. It’s not illegal for them to walk around together. They haven’t caused trouble as gang members. What we try to do is that as soon as it’s midnight, remind them of curfew.”

Pierini said the sheriff’s department arrests about 125 people every New Year’s Eve and has stations set up at the casino core to process the defendants immediately.

“You really have to do something to get arrested,” Pierini said. “We don’t have time to deal with minor infractions.”

– Keeping their cool. Modispacher said law enforcement personnel put training and teamwork to use in maintaining their calm.

“It is so difficult from a police officer’s standpoint to keep your mental discipline and not get angry,” he said. “When you see a male intentionally strike a female in the face with a beer bottle, you just want to rip his face off. But our job is law enforcement and not punishment. Even if you see someone strike somebody else, that person is innocent till proven guilty.”

Modispacher said officers are assigned to teams of five and work closely with their supervisors.

“We just keep telling them to keep their cool and reminding them it’s all on videotape. I remind them, ‘You don’t want to pull your nightstick out and start waling on somebody. That could be the end of your law enforcement career in Douglas County.'”

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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