It’s to the credit of Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello, St. Peter’s Fiesta Committee head Joe Novello and many others that this year’s Fiesta, even with 17 arrests, was generally safer, more secure and devoid of some of the fighting that’s occurred usually outside and around the Fiesta grounds in the past.
Of those 17 arrests, fewer than a handful involved alleged assaults. And a stepped-up presence by Gloucester and Massachusetts State Police indeed seemed to help keep the increasingly family-oriented event free of the rowdyism that has plagued Fiestas past.
But it was jarring to learn from several Fiesta goers and others that the actions apparently carried out primarily by Essex County Sheriff’s officers and their K9 companions didn’t calm but rather fueled tensions outside the St. Peter’s Club in the wee hours of Sunday morning. And we can only hope that an investigation called for by Mayor Carolyn Kirk yields real, hard answers as to what called for such a show of force that residents and other Fiesta goers clearly felt intimidated — not by rowdy drunks fighting in the streets, but by police and sheriff’s personnel who should be protecting public safety.
According to a number of sources, the trouble began when officers sought to clear the St. Peter’s Club, and patrons exited onto Rogers Street. But instead of being told to simply keep it moving and head for home, a number of partiers — men and women of all adult ages — were confronted by muzzled but barking and jumping Sheriff’s Department police dogs, triggering responses from residents and visitors that led to some arrests on their own.
By Monday morning, Campanello already seemed to recognize how wrong things had gone in those minutes on Rogers Street. In his statement to the Times, he noted that “I am evaluating that (K9) response with the input I have heard from my officers, establishment owners, and citizens I have heard from,” he said — adding that he encourages others to contact him as well.
The mayor, meanwhile, advised the City Council in a memo noting that “Chief Campanello is wrapping up the preliminary evaluation I asked him to undertake ... regarding the use of K9s as part of the Fiesta safety plan ... (and that) he is preparing a written report in response to my formal request.” To that end, Kirk vowed to release a full report in the incident “as (soon) as it is available.”
We hope that’s very soon. Gloucester residents and all Fiesta goers deserve firm answers as to what prompted this aggressive action — and an assurance that it won’t happen again.