By Owen Woods | firstname.lastname@example.org
“SATURDAYS suck,” said Monte Vista Police Officer Brandon Sanchez. Stampede Saturdays prove to be the toughest challenge for cops: “self-claimer” gang members, drugs, booze, crowds of people as thick as smoke, fights, lost kids, and a high chance for anything to happen. A sensory overload of carnival rides, rodeo announcers, country music, and the joy and jubilee of everyone around is enough to keep you on edge the whole night.
On Saturday night of Monte Vista’s 100th Annual Stampede Alamosa Citizen went on a “walk-along” with Monte Vista law enforcement. In a watered-down version of “COPS” I hung with three police officers as they patrolled the carnival grounds, then the interior of the Ski Hi complex during the big swing dance.
With mass shootings in the headlines, sacred places of colorful joy have a bitter aroma about them now. The July 4 Highland Park, Illinois, mass shooting may inspire copycats to target annual events. Stampede is one of the Valley’s most packed events, year after year. The possibility of such a thing happening here was low, but not absolute zero. The worry was on everyone’s mind, but the cops had to do business as usual. They were there, taking the brunt of the community’s woes to ensure that everyone could enjoy the bucking broncs, the greasy funnel cakes, and the well-traveled carnival rides.
WE weaved through groups of people standing in line for the rides and food for about two hours. Lap after lap, we made our way around, keeping the presence high. The jokes and sibling-like relationship between the officers kept the mood light. They shot the breeze with community members, shook hands, gave hugs, and gave out police badge stickers to kids.
Even with the crowds of people and chances for something to happen, the night proved to be tame. I dare not use the Q-Word: quiet. Quiet, in a first responder’s world, is a cursed word. During the carnival shift, the most noteworthy events included a little boy returned to his mom and the separation of two high schoolers feuding over a girl.
The warm smell of colitas was thick in the air. Were drugs an issue during Stampede? Drug use, other than weed, on the grounds was rare, but not uncommon. Officer Brittney Martinez said that most people will do their drugs outside the carnival, then come in. Most folks will smoke weed in the parking lot. Vape pens were everywhere.
Alcohol seemed to be the real issue. Thursday night proved to be a tough night for law enforcement. Fights broke out and more than a few dozen names were put on the “86 List.” The 86 List is a list of people who have earned themselves a ban from partaking in any of the weekend’s festivities. Later on during the walk-along, two Rio Grande County sheriff’s deputies and Officer Sanchez escorted out a guy who had brawled around on Thursday night. It took five officers to get him under control that night, Officer Sanchez told me.
Stampede prohibits any kind of weapon in the Ski Hi complex. Alas, two handguns were confiscated, one on Friday night and one on Saturday night. I was told that the folks were compliant, but had similar stories of why they decided to carry handguns. They told the cops that they were “afraid of the state of the world and wanted to protect themselves.”
A somewhat credible threat of violence made its way through social media before Stampede went into full swing. The person threatened to “blow up” Stampede. The Citizen was told this individual was arrested with at least 8 outstanding warrants. The rumors spread quickly, but Monte Vista PD was quick to quash the fears.
With the new Ski Hi complex hosting its first Stampede, the gloves came off for security. Monte Vista Police Department, Rio Grande County Sheriff’s Office, and Highpoint Security were all very present Saturday. Alamosa Police Department assisted during Thursday night’s concert.
However, even with the strong presence, the number of available officers was low. There were, by our count, eight Monte Vista officers, at least six Rio Grande County deputies (including newly elected Sheriff Anne Robinson), and four Highpoint security agents among hundreds to thousands of rodeo-goers.
AFTER the carnival shift, it was time to rotate into Ski Hi’s main building to make the rounds during the dance. The dance followed immediately after the rodeo and folks came, en masse, to the big concrete venue. The beer flowed like water, and crowd after crowd started to fill the building to its brim.
If the fights and brawls and drunken squabels were gonna happen, it was gonna be here. I was assigned to Officer Twila Martinez for this part of the walk-along, which was observation. There wasn’t a lot of talking between us as we threaded our way through groups of people. The live music put the kibosh on any real conversations or questions that might arise.
This is also when the real community engagement came out. Officer Martinez shook hands and said hello to more people than could be accurately recorded. Monte Vista Police Chief George Dingfelder, too, walked around and shook hands with half the town, maybe even half the Valley.
The mood during the dance was starkly different from the carnival. A lighter mood, perhaps one subdued by ice cold Coors Lite, fell over the crowd. Folks were concerned with dancing or yelling a conversation into their neighbor’s ear.
The cops had a job to do, but it was not without its stresses and tribulations. Standing on the rough concrete with 20 pounds of gear wore down on the soles of their feet. Acting as liaisons to check the lost and found bin proved futile more than once. Bullet-proof vests and cotton shirts are not ideal for summer patrols in a room full of warm-blooded Americans.
Everyone was able to enjoy the night, enjoy the music, without having to worry about becoming another statistic. This is due to a group of young men and women who signed up for a tough gig. The cops took the job seriously so everyone else was able to go home that night with perhaps an injury no worse than a bruised ego.
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