Butte police are preparing for St. Patrick’s Day, Undersheriff George Skuletich said. Extra officers will be out on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and the Montana Highway Patrol plans to have their DUI team in town for the Irish holiday.
But while Skuletich said he expects a big crowd to mingle around Uptown Butte on Sunday after the parade, the holiday’s party atmosphere is nothing like what it used to be. He said in the early 2000s, Butte police ran into a lot of issues, mostly related to misconduct and vandalism.
“We would drive through a crowd, and people would run up to and in front of our cars,” Skuletich reflected, noting some cans and bottles were even thrown at the patrol vehicles. “It was chaos for a while, and we were in fear we’d get one of our officers hurt.”
Skuletich also mentioned a time when a man tried to climb on top of the M&M Bar sign and urinate on the crowd as well as times when people have jumped out of windows or vandalized Uptown buildings. He said people had even tried to tip police patrol cars over.
Most of these misconduct or vandalism crimes and related arrests were made on people from out of town who would “treat Butte like a garbage can,” Skuletich said. He explained that after a few of these wild St. Paddy’s, Butte police, with help from Uptown businesses and the county, decided to do things differently.
In 2005, Skuletich said Butte’s police force met with local bars to see if they’d be willing to close early on St. Patrick’s Day to help with crowd control and prevent some of the misconduct-related crime. That was also the year police were able to roughly double their number of officers in the days leading up to and the day of the Irish holiday as a result of grant funding.
With the increase in officer numbers 14 years ago, Skuletich said police made about 100 misconduct- and vandalism-related arrests. Last year, he said about 30 St. Paddy’s arrests were made — a crime decrease police believe to be a result of increased law enforcement.
“In recent years, the crowds have been very good,” Skuletich said. “The bars and everyone in Butte have stepped up to make this a safer holiday for everyone.”
The first step to solving crime is visibility, Skuletich continued, so Butte police continue to have both walking and vehicle patrols out in the party areas on St. Paddy’s. He said this increased visibility has helped shift St. Patrick’s Day in Butte from a spring break party to a holiday celebration.
“It’s evolved over the past 10 to 15 years into a great thing for the citizens of Butte,” Skuletich said. “We believe with enforcement, we’ve brought St. Patrick’s Day back to what the celebration should be.”