ATLANTIC CITY — A Halloween weekend filled with events has police officials concerned about the effects of last month's department layoffs.
Three concerts, a boxing match and Harrah's Entertainment's second annual "Out in A.C." gay-and-lesbian extravaganza are expected to attract crowds to rival a summer night at the height of tourist season.
Highlighting the weekend will be three nights of sold-out concerts by the rock band Phish. The group formed nearly three decades ago and has a Grateful Dead-like following that travels from city to city with the band. The fans will fill the 14,100-seat capacity Boardwalk Hall starting Friday night and ending with an extended Halloween show that wraps up the band's fall tour.
The special events coincide with Mischief Night and Halloween, and police admit they are concerned about maintaining regular patrols while monitoring the huge influx of visitors.
"We're going to get as many agencies involved as we can," Deputy Chief Ernest Jubilee said. "We always rely on our partners."
Those partners will be led by State Police and the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, both already a regular presence in the city.
Preparations included sending a detective from the city's Intelligence Unit to a Phish concert earlier this month in Charleston, S.C.
"It just makes good prudent sense to see what's been done in the past," Deputy Chief Henry White said. "We just wanted to see first-hand what we're up against here in Atlantic City."
This is not the first time an intelligence-gathering mission has taken city police to concert venues, White said. But it is the first time the city's department has had its ranks fall below 300 in five years. Forty officers were laid off Sept. 30, adding to the 20 cut in June and about a dozen retirements. The city also laid off 30 firefighters in September, causing at least two companies each shift to be shuttered. But Fire Chief Dennis Brooks said he, too, plans to increase his department's presence this weekend.
"The town's supposed to be mobbed," he said. "We're looking at beefing up our protection."
As for the Police Department, in addition to sending a detective to South Carolina, leaders also have been looking at reports from other shows about what to expect.
The two-day stop in Charleston included 83 arrests, at least 20 for "public urination," according to police there.
Jubilee also found a March 2009 newspaper story on a three-day event in Hampton, Va., similar to what is expected here, that resulted in nearly 200 arrests — more than half for misdemeanors. It also included seizure of an estimated $1.2 million in drugs.
"We didn't have any problems," Hampton Police Department Cpl. Allison Quinones said. "Having dealt with the Phish crowd before, we knew what to expect with the large crowds."
Hampton also used undercover officers and help from outside agencies, Quinones said.
But Jubilee pointed out he won't have at least one piece of help Hampton did.
"They even used NCIS," he said of the Virginia-based Naval Criminal Investigative Service. "We don't have NCIS."
While the Atlantic City deputy chiefs would not give specifics about their security plans, they said a bigger-than-normal presence is planned. It was unclear what kind of overtime that might mean. Off-duty officers will also be used as part of the special detail Boardwalk Hall has planned.
"We have no doubt it will be a safe weekend," said Greg Tesone, the hall's general manager. "It's going to be a larger than normal contingent of our own security and of the off-duty police detail that we would normally have."
Phish Heads — as the band's faithful followers are known — are not the only group that will be making Atlantic City its trick-or-treat destination.
Harrah's four properties will celebrate the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community with its second annual "Out in A.C.," which promises "a bevy of gay royalty" beginning with Friday's "One Night in New Jersey" hosted by celebrity blogger Perez Hilton at the House of Blues.
Social Distortion will be at the House of Blues on Saturday, with the Black Crowes playing the more intimate setting of the Borgata's Music Box.
Many of the hotels have seen a rise in room sales, with some sold out, Jubilee said.
He worries that some fans may take to sleeping on the beach or under the Boardwalk, so he also planned to increase the beach and Boardwalk patrols, which include officers on ATVs.
"We'll handle it, just like we handle every other event in Atlantic City," White said. "The Atlantic City police welcome all visitors and concert-goers to enjoy themselves, have fun and obey the laws of the state of New Jersey."
"I think it's great for the city to be able to do something like this, particularly in October," Tesone said, of the shoulder season. "I know the hotels have definitely seen an increase. This is what we're here for, to try to drive business into the city, and that's what we're doing."
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