Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin says we could see as many as 30,000 St. Patrick’s Day revellers in Waterloo’s University and Entertainment districts on Sunday.
“We are planning for a crowd anywhere from 25,0000 to 30,000 people in the university district as well as the entertainment district,” he said at a press conference Thursday to discuss his force’s plans on how to deal with the massive unsanctioned street party.
In 2015, the crowd on Ezra Avenue was estimated to be between 5,000 and 7,000 people. Last year, police estimated that number had grown to 22,000.
Over the years, police have been forced to close Ezra Avenue to keep the crowd safe but the sheer size of it may also force other road closures.
“Obviously, the Ezra Avenue corridor can only contain so many,” Larkin said. “We know that Clayfield and Bricker (avenues) are overflows.”
There is a plan in place to decide if and when road shutdowns occur. That decision will be made by Supt. Tom Berczi. He will lead a team that will get help from Peel Regional Police.
“Once again this year we have the Peel Regional Police Service that is joining us to provide operational support through their public safety team and public safety planning — that’s a necessity for the safety of all those in the community,” Larkin explained.
WATCH: Increased police presence in Waterloo not enough to curb out of control St. Patrick’s Day party (2018)
The chief said that many people suggest to him police should just close off Ezra Street but he says it is not that simple.
“I get a lot of inquiries as to ‘why don’t we just shut the road down and don’t let people on there?’ But we’re dealing with 20,000 to 25,000 people,” he said.
Larkin says there is a two- to five-year plan being developed on how to deal with unsanctioned parties such as St. Patrick’s Day and Homecoming in the region.
“We want to put an end to unsanctioned events, but we’re not naive enough to think it’s going to happen overnight,” he explained.
He believes that some of the reasons the party has grown are psychological.
WATCH (Aired 2018): Heavy police presence as thousands turn out for St. Patrick’s festivities in Waterloo
“We look at the phenomenon of FOMO (fear of missing out) so we are seeing more people that want to check it out and see what’s happening,” he said.
Larkin also believes that despite the size of the annual unsanctioned event, the safety of revellers has also helped it to grow.
“In many ways, we are the victim of very sound, successful planning. We have created an environment that is safe. We have created an environment where people can come and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and let out some steam. So, we have seen the crowds increase.”
One new wrinkle that police will have to deal with this year is the legalization of marijuana.
“The reality is that our traffic focus will be around drug-impaired driving so we will have a number of drug recognition experts,” he said.