Let’s all apply lessons learned at next zombie march

Last year’s zombie march provided an excellent opportunity for lessons to be learned by not only residents of Durango, but also law enforcement.

Anyone who watched videos of that event probably would say: “That’s not the Durango I know,” and they would be right. It’s not the Durango I know, either. Many families move here to get away from violence in the streets. They work three jobs to make ends meet for the quality of life we have here.

Twenty-two people who were arrested last year learned lessons: They faced court, dealt with attorneys and spent money to defend themselves. They faced sanctions at work, school and home. And they all have discovered that an arrest record stays with you for the rest of your adult life, even if your case is deferred.

Every time they go for a job interview or apply to a school, they will have to explain this arrest. They violated the law; and I think if you ask most of them, they don’t even know why.

The police department also learned many lessons. We looked into issues of use of force, mass arrests and chemical sprays. We spent months reviewing video and investigating our actions to ensure that they were appropriate. We talked at length with some of those arrested to see if there was a point in time where this could have been avoided.

We have reviewed crowd-control measures and gathered input from other agencies that have faced similar situations. This year, we are better prepared, and I am hopeful we will not repeat some of our mistakes from last year.

One lesson we gathered from those arrested was the need to be more proactive with this event and the need for more information before it starts. That is why I am writing about this today.

The Durango Police Department has an obligation to protect the rights of all our residents, and we are charged with maintaining the peace. Every resident has the right to assemble as long as it is lawful and peaceful. Every resident has the right to free speech as long as it is not riotous in nature.

The zombie march is not a lawful or sanctioned event. It is unlawful to obstruct a street or road. It is unlawful to throw beer bottles, rocks, full beer cans, trash cans and lit cigarettes at police. It is unlawful to remain in place after being given a lawful order to disperse. It is unlawful to damage or destroy someone else’s property. It is unlawful to assault a police officer.

These all were things people were arrested for last year. Alcohol was a factor in most of the arrests we made last year. We all know that alcohol lowers inhibitions and good judgment when consumed in excess.

If you decide to go downtown on Halloween, please do not consume alcohol in excess; be mindful and respectful of others and their property; and do not get into the street. If you are contacted by police, please comply with any directives or requests. This Halloween, we can all avoid mistakes we made last year.

With everyone’s help, we can make sure this year’s Halloween is fun for all, like the Durango we all know and love.

Lt. Ray Shupe is assistant operations division commander with the Durango Police Department.