Kevin Valine

Modesto Police, X-Fest may have safety plan

An officer detains a man at a recent X-Fest in downtown Modesto.
An officer detains a man at a recent X-Fest in downtown Modesto.

The Modesto Police Department and X-Fest promoter Chris Ricci may have solved the department’s safety concerns about the musical festival, which annually draws about 15,000 people downtown on one day in August.

Those concerns were aired at the April 5 City Council meeting and include that officers don’t like working outdoors on a hot summer night and dealing with people who have been drinking and those festival-goers who are hostile to law enforcement. The officers who work X-Fest are off-duty, and it’s their choice whether to work. Ricci pays them overtime wages.

The council asked Ricci to come up with a plan to address those and other concerns, including how the number of on-duty personnel from several agencies assigned to the event has dropped in recent years. The council is expected to decide April 26 whether to grant Ricci a permit for this year’s festival, which is scheduled for Aug. 20 and is the biggest street party in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Several downtown blocks are closed and fenced off for the festival, which features 20 stages, hundreds of bands, other live attractions and plenty to eat and drink. Last year’s musical lineup included rockabilly, heavy metal, ska and hip hop. X-Fest, if approved, would be in its 17th year.

Police Chief Galen Carroll said the plan his department worked out with Ricci includes X-Fest increasing the number of security guards it hires from 200 to 300 and not having the off-duty officers inside the festival grounds. Instead, they would be in their patrol cars just outside the festival, providing a highly visible presence to festival-goers. Carroll said the officers could quickly enter the festival as needed.

Carroll said the security guards and officers also would stay on the job after the festival closes, which is when problems can erupt and tie up the police officers who are working their normal shifts patrolling the city.

“I think it shows when we all work together we can do really positive things,” Ricci said.

Carroll also surveyed his department’s 209 officers for their input on X-Fest. He got 84 responses in a week from the roughly 180 officers who could have worked X-Fest. The remaining officers are new to the department and are completing their probation.

Seventy-four of the officers who returned the survey said they had worked X-Fest and 66.7 percent said they would not work it again, while 22.6 percent said they would and 10.7 percent said only if it were the only available off-duty assignment.

The comments of those who said they would not work it again included: “It’s all a drunkfest with a high probability of getting unfounded complaints,” “very long hours, with an unfriendly crowd,” and “I hate dealing with all of the drunks and stupid people.”

The survey also asked how X-Fest could be safer. Not surprisingly, responses included reducing the drinking, limiting the crowd size and more security. Some respondents said Modesto should not hold the event or it should be held in Stockton or get rid of the rap and other type of music that attracts a bad element like gang members.

Carroll said the purpose of the survey was to include officers’ perspective as part of the effort in coming up with a plan to provide an X-Fest that is safe for the police and the public.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316