How law enforcement makes the Greeley Stampede the ‘safest place in northern Colorado’ | MyWindsorNow.com
Tommy Simmons
tsimmons@greeleytribune.com

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How law enforcement makes the Greeley Stampede the ‘safest place in northern Colorado’

Weld County Undersheriff Donnie Patch went to the Greeley Stampede for the first time in 1978, when he could still count his age on 10 fingers. During that visit, he found two tickets on the ground to a Don Williams concert. He saw the country legend play live that night.

Almost four decades later, Patch still attends the Stampede every year. Now, though, he wears a Weld County Sheriff's Office emblem when he does it.

"I enjoy making it safe for people to do what I did as a kid," he said.

"Making it safe" means long hours for Patch and the rest of the Weld County Sheriff's Posse. It's a volunteer group of Weld residents that includes everyone from retirees to jail deputies to computer engineers. They patrol the Stampede for its entirety.

The posse shares that responsibility with the Greeley Police Department, as well as the Greeley Stampede's own security team. Cpl. Matt Turner said the posse usually handles the Stampede's events, such as rodeos and concerts, while the police department provides security for the attractions and the carnival.

Most of the time, Patch said, posse members are mounted on horseback or on bicycles. It makes it easy to get from one end of Island Grove Regional Park to the other, and the horses are a commanding presence.

He remembers how the crowd began to get out of hand during one of last year's concerts. Posse members on horseback were positioned behind the crowd, and they had a decent view of the audience from the saddle. When audience members began to get rowdy, he said, the posse escorted troublemakers out of the arena, and the horses provided good cover.

"It's a big barrier when you get two to three horses following somebody," Patch said.

Not surprisingly, he said, the posse sees a lot of alcohol-related incidents. Disturbances during concerts and other events often fall into this category, but more commonly, Patch said, alcohol is a health concern. With so many people in one area drinking alcohol in the mid-summer heat, dehydration is common. Medical emergencies are more common than fights, he said.

Still, every evening at about 5 p.m., everyone who provides security for the events meets to prepare for the long night ahead, said Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner.

Officers see low-level violations, such as minors in possession of alcohol, more often than major crime, he said. He added the Greeley Police Department will be looking for drunk drivers in the area around the Stampede, as well.

Officers from the gang unit still patrol Island Grove during the events, but Garner said the amount of criminal activity at the Stampede plummeted after its organizers began charging a general admission fee.

"It has been a godsend," Garner said. "It has dropped the gang activity to almost nil."

Patch said the posse's horses also help prevent violence. Last year at the end of the night, he said, posse members rode their horses up to the Stampede's beer tents to let people know it was time to go.

"People naturally move away from the horses," he said. "They made it a peaceful event as opposed to officers trying to muscle (people) out."

Plus, everybody loves horses.

"All night long we're stopping for people to pet the horses," he said. "They're a huge advantage."

Additional precautions

After a May 22 terrorist attack on a massive concert in Manchester, England, killed 22 people and injured 116, Greeley Stampede management had a special meeting with the Greeley Police Department to discuss potential security issues, said John DeWitt, the event’s chairman. There’s no reason to believe the event will be anything other than safe, DeWitt said, but he wanted to be sure.

“We run a pretty tight ship, but I just wanted to bring that to everyone’s attention,” DeWitt said. “It’s a different time we live in.”

Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner said the possibility of terrorism has caused police departments across the nation to make changes to their approach to policing mass events such as the Stampede in recent years. Garner, as well as Stampede leadership, opted not to disclose those changes, but the police chief said his department keeps in touch with the FBI to help prevent major crime.

Still, Garner said, he’s expecting a safe, fun Stampede just as in years’ past.

DeWitt agreed.

“We don’t want people to live in fear of the what-if,” he said. “This is the safest place in northern Colorado.”