Annual Riot Training Prior to Race Weekend
Pasco -- The hydroplane races are just days away, and the timing leaves some recalling an incident twenty years ago that put a dark spot on memories of race weekends gone by.
It was twenty years ago, in 1987, that a riot broke out in Pasco. Traffic on Court Street was at a standstill, and motorists began to leave their cars to congregate on the roadway and in parking lots.
In the words of police Seargeant Ben Majetich, "It got heated, big and bad. Businesses were destroyed and a riot ensued."
Police, who admit they were not well equipped, and were ill trained to deal with the violence, were able to disperse the crowd, but not before some frightening moments for the officers who were first to arrive on the scene on Court Street.
Majetich, who would not join the Pasco police department for another year, recalls the actions police took in 1988. "We," he said, "had to take a hard nosed stance."
People in the city were arrested for things as simple as walking off the sidewalk. Motorists who stopped their cars saw their vehicles impounded, and they were taken to jail. Officers from as far away as Connell were brought in on race weekend 1988. Majetich said, "There were cops on every street corner. It didn't create a fun environment for boat races."
The riot of 1987 was enough to make all local jurisdictions examine their departmental policies. "That was when various agencies started considering the seriousness of riot situations and how we better be prepared for the years following."
Last week, Majetich took his officers through comprehensive training for riot situations. It is an annual program that was put in place after the races and takes place each July. Majetich first teaches in a classroom environment. His officers then suit up in riot gear. They learn tehniques and formations as well as proper use of riot shields and batons.
Majetich says that because of the level of training now offered , it takes just 23 officers to move a crowd as large as 5 thousand people.
Although boat race weekend is tame compared to years past, Majetich says riot training is vital for any event where there are large crowds.