Need a better way to celebrate New Year’s
This is a call to action for this community. I am writing because of my concern for the young people in this valley who show up in great numbers every New Year’s Eve to witness large groups of young adults, some older adults and teenagers behaving badly between approximately 8 p.m. and 3 a.m. This is not intended as an attack on anyone, but a call for a better way to celebrate our new year.The gathering of folks of all ages to welcome in the new year is one of the largest people events that takes place in Aspen and is spontaneous, as well as unplanned, as a city-sanctioned event by the city of Aspen/Aspen Police Department, with no real event-type controls in place other than laws like DUI, disorderly conduct, underage drinking, curfew violations, open container, sexual assault, illegal throwing of missiles (i.e. bottles, rocks, snowballs and fireworks), first-, second- or third-degree assault, drug use, etc. So far no guns have fired into the sky like in Denver, but that may be coming. All of these things happen in great numbers on this one special night.The entire Aspen Police Department, with the assistance of the sheriff’s office, has worked diligently each year to keep this event under some sort of control, but each year the numbers grow, the arrests multiply, the amount of overly intoxicated people of all ages has increased dramatically to the point where all the officers could do was just take the bottles away from those they saw drinking and send them on their way, no matter the age. There is no time to deal with all the violations when you are breaking up fights, taking reports of assaults, and finding some young people passed out cold in the alleys – 13- and 14-year-olds who had been dumped there by their friends to not get caught themselves. This actually happened.Parents, if you have never been there and you let your child go, you are making what could be a very big mistake for your child’s safety. This unplanned spontaneous event could be a great family event, if planned in some other manner. But as it is, it is anything but safe – I’m sure the officers all thank their lucky stars at the end of the night that it wasn’t any worse than it was. The officers are skilled, do an incredible job and enforce the laws as time allows, but the number of outlandish and illegal behaviors happening on such a large scale is not possible to deal with adequately for the optimum safety of everyone. This would be the case even if the number of police officers on hand were three or four times what we have now.Maybe it’s time to end it, and maybe instead of fireworks, we ask the incredible Aspen fire department to hose the whole crowd down and disperse them. Not a serious solution but tempting.Why is it necessary because of the new year to get so out of control? I think the amount of illegal drug consumption has increased each year. My main concern is the amount of young people that are there witnessing this, drinking and drugging themselves, out after curfew without supervision and mostly becoming very much a part of the problem and at risk for great injury. We could maybe pass a temporary ordinance to not allow young people out without a parent or guardian at their side. We could maybe try to write them all tickets for curfew, but by 11 p.m. it is already so busy for every officer on duty. Officers write MIP tickets for underage alcohol, but again, too many young people are in violation and most officers are maxed out. Maybe parents shouldn’t let their child be there at all. Probably the best solution, but the ever-increasing amounts of young people there without parents is growing each year. Maybe, parents, it would be good to give this some thought. Please do. It would be great if people could gather after a drink at home, watch the fireworks, wish everyone a cordial Happy New Year’s Eve, then maybe head home or to a bar for that champagne toast. It wasn’t that many years ago that people did that.I know I may sound like a naïve, conservative, Midwestern dreamer, longing for the past. Maybe times have changed, but in my observation as an Aspen police officer for the past 26 years working mostly with kids, I feel that we all need to take another look at what this event has become and find a better way to welcome in another year. I also believe that everyone at the police department will be open to listening to ideas, facilitating discussion and helping work towards a better solution. And before anyone says, “just hire more officers and arrest more people,” understand there are none extra and available that night, but that could still happen. Even if we had a hundred extra officers, that still would not be enough. And bottom line, that is not the best we can do as a community.One should not point out problems without offering at least some semblance of a solution. Here is one I believe merits a look and many may already know about, but it takes a community of volunteers to make it happen: Many cities around the world celebrate what is called First Night. You can find it on the Web at http://www.firstnightinternational.org. One city that has it (besides Boston, Atlanta and Monterey) and loves it is Whistler, British Columbia, another ski town. It is a nonalcoholic, family-oriented night with booths and events leading up to midnight and after, recognizing the many forms of art in our culture and an introduction to those art forms, along with food and other great goings-on. Maybe this is worth a look.I will help however I can, but to repeat a good but true, yet overused, phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Along with that, it takes less alcohol/drug abuse, and you can still have a good time.Happy New Year! Aspen Police Department School Resource Officer Brad Onsgard has served in his current position in the Aspen schools for the past five years. He was a juvenile investigator with the APD for 16 years.
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