War could have indirect effects on crowdsSEASIDE - The police response for spring break could be affected indirectly by war developments in Iraq and related protests, but law enforcement officials still say they are ready for visiting crowds.
"The war is the wild card, and I don't know how that will play out," said Ken Almberg, chief of the Seaside Police Department. However, he added, "we will be well prepared for any problem that happens here."
Spring vacation from schools in Oregon begins Friday afternoon, and the break brings thousands of students and families to Seaside as one of the state's primary tourist spots. To keep a check on unruly behavior and reinforce a safety amid the crowds, Seaside works with other cities as well as county and state agencies to boost the police presence.
A spring break pre-deployment meeting previously scheduled today at the Rilea Armed Forces Training Center in Warrenton was canceled as state police prepared to respond to anticipated war protests in Portland and Eugene.
How possible war protests will influence police resources statewide is "a big unknown, but it's already having an impact" in terms of planning, said Lt. Duane Stanton of the Oregon State Police in Astoria.
Still, Stanton said he fully anticipates having one state police team for Seaside.
Regardless of whether protests surface in Seaside, police are expected gather in significant numbers on the North Coast by the weekend for spring break, Almberg said.
Everything from fears of the theoretical use of biotoxins in retaliatory attacks to the desire of getting away from protests and traffic snarls in the metropolitan area could drive more people to Seaside this weekend, he said. The high price of gasoline also could prompt city residents to favor a short trip to the beach instead of more distant trips, he added.
Forecasts of rain may not necessarily dampen activity and sometimes rain intensifies restlessness among people staying in town, Almberg said.
Despite state budget cutbacks that have reduced the size of the state police force, Almberg and the Seaside Public Safety Committee have worked with state and local agencies to coordinate an overall presence of as many as 60 to 75 officers in the Seaside area this weekend. That total is 20 to 30 fewer officers than last year's spring break law enforcement total, but the number of reserve officers patrolling on bicycle is higher, Almberg said.
"We're there to show the public we're here, to protect them and maintain order," he said.
Corrections, processing and Juvenile Department staff will assist Seaside.
Police eventually resorted to the use of armor and smoke canisters to quell riotous activity in 1999, which had resulted in minor damage to more than a dozen businesses. But law enforcement and activity planning have contributed to relatively tranquil spring breaks since then.
A grant from the Clatsop County District Attorney's Office this year has allowed Warrenton, Astoria, Gearhart and Cannon Beach to augment Seaside's police officers as well as the Clatsop County Sheriff's Department.
The sheriff's volunteer posse on horseback will return to help patrol Seaside's dunes. In addition to the value in keeping the peace, "it's a practical way to get around on the beach," Chief Deputy Dan Laughman said.
State police budget cutbacks had reduced the number of regular troopers stationed to stop intoxicated drivers and would-be mayhem-makers on U.S. Highway 26, before they enter Seaside. At least three troopers will patrol the highway on the weekend, including two who ordinarily would have time off but who will be paid through federal grants, Stanton said.
They will target drivers under the influence of intoxicants and those transporting alcohol or drugs, he said.
The Washington County Sheriff's Department also has stepped in to heighten patrols on U.S. 26.
Previous concerns about having an extra long spring break because of Portland school budget cutbacks were averted when teachers negotiated a settlement and reinstated some classroom time.
With a few exceptions such as the University of Washington, most Washington schools - including those in Tacoma, Seattle and Olympia - have scheduled spring break this year for the second week of April. That means Seaside will not see much of an overlap of Oregon students leaving and Washington students entering the city in what ordinarily is a busy "middle weekend," noted Ken Karge, a spokesman for the Seaside Public Safety Committee.
In any event, Seaside historically has seldom has experienced significant trouble in the second weekend.
Much of the public safety efforts surrounding spring break preparation are designed to address issues before they become problems. Seaside city officials are keeping an eye on the high amount of driftwood which could become a fire hazard, for example, and Trendwest Resorts construction crews have removed scaffolding from the side of the condominium tower along busy Broadway sidewalk.
The Seaside Public Safety Committee has again worked with the Sunset Park and Recreation District and local businesses to plan an assortment of activities in town (see related story). A car cruise down Broadway was removed because of the demand on personnel.
Committee members and Oregon Liquor Control Commission agents met with representatives of the local lodging industry and alcohol and tobacco vendors last week to offer advice, Karge said.
In recent years, spring break guests appear to have been predominantly families. A reduction in inquiries to the Seaside Visitors Center suggests that many this year will be return visitors familiar with the area, Karge said.
The crowd size is difficult to estimate in advance, he added. "I expect because of the international situation and projected weather, it may be a little lighter this year."