Only two days remain until the next St Patrick’s Day street party that, in the past, has turned the residential Waterloo neighbourhood around Ezra Avenue into a sea of drunken students.
This year, police are anticipating an increase in attendance from the 2018 party, to as many as 25,000-30,000, as the event has steadily grown over the past several years.
The notorious, unsanctioned parties have been going on since the early ’90s; however, the attendance in the beginning was less than 2,000 people — a far cry from the more than 22,000 reported to have attended last year’s event.
Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin held a press conference on Thursday, where he announced that police will increase their presence this year as part of a larger operational plan to deal with the crowd and ensure the public’s safety.
“We’ve got some significant operational planning in place, with citizens and individuals in Uptown Waterloo, in the university district, who can anticipate seeing an enhanced police presence on the weekend,” he said.
Larkin explained that the plan included a door-knocking campaign earlier this week, which urged student residents in the area to choose alternative options for the evening. The plan also includes protecting the safety of pedestrians passing through by temporarily closing roads in the area throughout the day.
“We have an operational plan to deal with the crowds, the potential overflows and the impacts on other roadways,” he said.
Larkin added that this year police will also have to deal with the addition of cannabis into the mix — something that hasn’t been a major factor in past.
Emergency services across the city will also be increasing their staffing in anticipation of alcohol- and party-related safety concerns. Last year’s party triggered a code red for emergency services, as the event added more strain on ambulances, causing a shortage in the region.
According to Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky, last year’s event cost taxpayers a staggering $713,000, half of which was for the large police presence required for this type of event. That was on top of the nearly $500,000 of taxpayers’ money that went into the Ezra Street homecoming party last November.
Despite the strong message from local authorities condemning the party, the buzz around campus suggests that this year’s celebration will go on as planned.
One of last year’s attendees, Adam Scott said, “I couldn’t believe how many people were there. The police didn’t stand a chance in controlling the party. I hope they have a better plan to deal with it this year, because everyone knows about this party now.”
The event typically begins early in the morning and continues well into the evening, leaving a wake of trash and empty alcohol containers across the otherwise quiet residential street.