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Police services board wants new approach to St. Patrick's Day

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The Waterloo Region Police Services Board wants to explore new ways of dealing with the annual unsanctioned St. Patrick’s Day street party in Waterloo’s University District.

This years’ festivities drew an estimated 9,500 people at peak. The cost of policing the gathering came in at $318,000 – mostly from overtime. The City of Waterloo spent an additional $103,800 on bylaw, fire and transit services.

Reviewing the cost estimate at Wednesday morning’s meeting, police board chair Ian McLean said it “feels a lot like Groundhog Day.”

“I am really concerned because the inevitable is going to happen, there’s a huge risk of catastrophic injury and/or death when you have that many people in places that are not meant for that kind of gathering,” McLean said.

A picture from a police CCTV camera shows the crowd of St. Patrick's Day partiers on Marshall Street at Regina Street at peak at 3:15 p.m. on Saturday March 16, 2024. (Presentation to Waterloo Regional Police Services Board)

While the police have focused on “managing” the party, McLean said he wanted to see them “try some new things.”

He asked for a group of senior leaders, including the police chief, the mayor of Waterloo and university presidents, to come together and discuss options.

“To look at this and say ‘What are some of the things that we have not done – some of which may be uncomfortable and things we thought we might not be able to do. But we need to have that conversation because this has to stop,” he said.

The motion passed unanimously with plans for the group to report back to the police board in September with ideas that could be implemented in time for St. Patrick’s Day 2025.

McLean declined to provide specifics about what tactics he'd like to see considered when asked by reporters.

“I’m not putting anything on or off the table but it should be a wide open discussion because what we’re doing right now in terms of trying to manage it is not working because the audience is not listening,” he said.

Other board members echoed McLean’s concerns.

“We’re diverting really scarce and precious services, EMS, police services, etc. away from other areas in the broader community,” Tony Giovinazzo said.

Chief Mark Crowell said from police's perspective, the gathering has become unsustainable.

"It’s unsanctioned but it’s also unsustainable from a cost standpoint," he said.

Waterloo Mayor Dorothy McCabe told CTV News she appreciates the board taking the issue seriously, but senior leadership already meets to discuss the street parties. The city has also tried various strategies over the years.

"If I had a magic wand to wave, I certainly would in this case," she said. "But it really is time for this dangerous gathering to come to an end"

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