City Couldn’t Handle Trouble
At OH-Fest, Chief, Mayor Find
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Hometown Oneonta & The Freeman’s Journal
ONEONTA – If one person gets hurt in the OH-Fest crowd, it takes five people, including law enforcement and EMTs, to reach them, according to City Police Chief Doug Brenner.
“We form a wedge to move through the crowd,” he said. “But if there’s 10 people fighting, we’re quickly overwhelmed.”
Such concerns were among the reasons Mayor Gary Herzig revoked SUNY Oneonta’s permit to hold this year’s OH-Fest concert by Rapper Sean Kingston. Know Violence Here, a student group, had spoke of protesting after learning he had been accused of a gang rape in 2010.
“It became apparent two days before the concert that there was as many as 400 students who would be protesting,” said Herzig. “I’m sure they were designed to be peaceful, but it could have lead to confrontation.”
“We got information that there would be demonstrations and that people may be coming from out of the area to join them,” said Brenner. “It taxes our resources just to have the concert.”
Brenner had a full slate of 18 officers scheduled for the concert, with half on site and the others stationed downtown. Additionally, nine troopers and members of both Hartwick College campus security, SUNY Oneonta campus police and fire department personnel are sent to monitor the concert.
“We form an outer perimeter,” he said. “We set up in groups in case of a problem in the crowd.”
The biggest issue with the crowds in previous years, he said, has been injuries sustained while dancing or due to heavy intoxication. “People fall down,” he said. “But it takes five of us to go in there and get them.”
The addition of private security came in 2011 following the appearance of rapper Pitbull at OH-Fest. “It was a perfect storm,” he said. “After they booked him, he had a few big hits and his popularity soared,” he said. “Other colleges sent buses to watch the concert. It was also in a smaller area of the park, and the weather was gorgeous. We were overwhelmed very quickly.”
Now, private security, hired by the colleges, handles the crowd and the stage area.
But following the student outcry, Brenner said the university was unable to provide additional help. “They provided some, but we needed more,” he said.
“SUNY Oneonta offered two or three officers,” said Herzig. “When I asked for additional support, we were not given it by SUNY Police. I felt it was in the best interest of all to cancel the concert.”
SUNY Police Chief Jennifer Fila was unavailable to discuss security issues at the concerts.
Additionally, Brenner said, there were concerns about the weather. “There was supposed to be one-to-two inches of rain, and mud,” he said. “Added all together, it raised the chances that there would be an incident that would overwhelm us.”
The show could have been held at SUNY’s Dewar Arena, but with only 24 hours to plan, the concert was officially cancelled.
“Our decision came down to safety,” said SUNY Oneonta VP/Student Development Franklin Chambers in an email. “OH-Fest planning is a months-long process involving the City, Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta. Given less than 36 hours to change the venue, we simply do not believe it would be possible to ensure the level of security we deem necessary for an event of this type and size.”
Herzig said that, to his knowledge, no concert has ever been cancelled before. “This cancellation was due to a unique set of circumstances,” he said.