Park City police keep the peace for Sundance stars and festival fans

Published: Monday, Jan. 25 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Park City police officer Jeremy Eaton stands outside of Harry O's on Main Street in Park City early Sunday morning. Police are keeping the streets safe during the Sundance Film Festival.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

PARK CITY — It's near midnight on the first Saturday of Sundance, and a small group of police officers is trying to convince an obviously intoxicated man that, for him anyway, the afterparty is over.

The man has been pulled from No Name Saloon on Main Street following a disorderly conduct complaint. He is refusing to identify friends inside the bar who can drive him home. He also won't call a cab and rejects several requests by police to call his father to come pick him up.

"If I call my dad, he'll say, 'Leave him … there,' " the man tells police in a slurred, too-loud rant.

Moments later, as video cameras protrude from a few passing SUVs and taxis to record the scene, the man is in handcuffs and being placed in the back of a patrol vehicle bound for the Summit County Jail.

"He's had too much to drink, that's all," says one of the officers involved in the brief streetside standoff.

"It happens from time to time," the officer adds nonchalantly. "It's Sundance."

Park City Police Sgt. Darwin Little has patrolled the city during the annual Sundance Film Festival for more than a decade now and acknowledges that during the 10-day event, "it's never, never boring."

During the weekend before Sundance arrived, the sergeant said, police responded to 197 calls for service. Between the opening of the festival on Thursday and midnight Saturday, he said, officers had handled 400 calls for service.

"It's a science," says Little, when asked how the city handles such a large event with few apparent problems.

"But it's not only Park City police who make it work," he says. "It's every department in the city. We can't do it on our own."

Little says city event planners ensure venues have the proper permits before hosting the movie premieres or other events that make Park City the only place to be for the independent film industry every January. And the city street department, he says, often works through the night clearing mountains of snow from Main Street to keep it from becoming narrower than it already is.

Still, no matter how good the plan is, there are always tweaks that can be made, which come to light during meetings held after each event hosted in Park City, including Sundance.

"We learn things every year," Little says, noting that the festival is "a perfect example of using a planned event to train for an unplanned event" like a natural disaster.

Back on Main Street, traffic rolls slowly by. It's a mix of stretch SUV limousines, taxis and private cars that police try to keep moving, sometimes in vain.

The ever-present stargazers crowd the sidewalks hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite actor, director or A-list celebrity. Camera flashes pop intermittently and people can be heard muttering as someone who may or may not be a star passes by.

Meanwhile, the party crowd stands in lengthy lines, trying to get into one of the already packed bars. Many partygoers are women clad in skirts so short they could pass as wide belts, and high-heel shoes that defy logic given the slushy conditions and 8 percent grade on Main Street. Some men wear fur coats and sport four or five heavy necklaces that appear to be encrusted in diamonds.

Actor Tom Arnold, sweating heavily in a puffy brown parka, emerges from Harry O's following a concert by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. The concert promoter at the door says actors Jared Leto and Marisa Tomei had been there earlier.

Inside the popular Sundance hangout, the music is deafening as people try to work their way on to or off of the main floor. This represents one of the primary concerns for police during the festival: building occupancy.

"Our biggest issue is public safety," says Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter, explaining that allowing too many people inside a venue is risky for patrons, as well as for police and other emergency responders in the event of a medical emergency or fire.

Carpenter talks about the need for a "free flow" of traffic inside the clubs and bars as he stands outside Flanagan's Irish Pub and Restaurant on Main Street where he's just ordered the manager to boot 50 patrons out.

Carpenter, who also serves as Park City's assistant fire marshal, entered the pub and found the crowd downstairs so thick he gave up trying to reach the back wall. Upstairs in the main dining area and bar, however, there's plenty of room. The manager agrees to turn on the lights downstairs and cut off the drinks and music in an effort to get some of the revelers to move back upstairs. But he also tells the chief that it'll be hard to keep patrons from moving back downstairs once the band starts to play again.

"We're pretty lenient as far as getting people to cooperate," Carpenter says, after thanking the manager and leaving Flanagan's with a promise to return later and check the occupancy.

"Our objective is to fix the problem and keep people safe," he says surveying the people milling past, "but still let them have a good time."

e-mail: gliesik@desnews.com TWITTER: GeoffLiesik

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