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First Night set to deliver safe, family fun for everyone

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Police warn of zero tolerance policy on New Year's Eve

Whistler's Staff Sergeant Hilton Haider has a message for people celebrating the New Year in the resort.

"Don't bring your liquor into the village," he said simply.

"It'll likely be confiscated and in all likelihood you're going to receive a liquor ticket. If you're rowdy and you're intoxicated, you could face being arrested for the night and being fined for being drunk in a public place."

It's the same message Whistler police have delivered for the past three years since the millennium party. It was after that 1999-2000 New Year's celebration that police and council realized something had to be done about the crowds, congestion and public rowdiness that went hand in hand with the celebrations in Whistler. And so they hired Maureen Douglas of Mo Ideas Management to help formulate a three-year strategy that would tackle those issues.

"The zero tolerance (policy) was taken very seriously (after the millennium party)," she said.

"Enforcement was stepped up to a very different level."

In addition the marketing campaign for First Night became focused on the ideas of an alcohol-free and zero-tolerance event, which helped deter partiers from crashing the family-oriented evening in the village.

Douglas also did a lot of research on crowd management using different types of programming and crowd psychology. By having the events dotted in different places through the village, it stopped a large crowd from congregating in one place with the potential to create a lot of trouble.

"It was a very, very big crowd (for the millennium)," recalled Douglas.

"A big part of the mandate and motivation to change the entire structure of the event was to get that big congestion out of one place. Everybody was congested into Village Square so to work with two or three other venues, move people around the village, get them experiencing different parts of town, keeping people moving a bit, was all part of the strategy to keep the event really safe."

Douglas admits that it's a challenging event to manage because ringing in the new year is associated with drinking alcohol. Whistler's First Night, however, has done a complete turnaround after the three-year strategy and most people have embraced the concepts of zero tolerance.

"We've come from an event that everybody looked at with a certain amount of trepidation every year to something we're excited about and proud of," said Douglas.

"Whistler made a decision years ago that this idea is the best model to work with to keep Whistler's village a safe, friendly environment on New Year's Eve."

This commitment at the municipal level has been key to the success of First Night. Douglas said other communities that have local government support are all successful compared to communities without that same level of local government commitment.

She is now in the process of handing over the bulk of the management of First Night to the municipality after three years at the helm of the production. She is pleased and proud to hand over the reins.

"We've certainly achieved a new level in public safety," she said in a recent presentation to council.

This was the goal of the three-year strategy.

Haider said police are using a "cookie cutter" model of last year to manage the event.

The bus service will be free on regular routes from 6 p.m. until 3 a.m. Once in the village the buses will only let people off at the Fitzsimmons bus loop. Police will be waiting there to check riders coming off the bus, particularly people carrying backpacks.

The buses will also stop running between 11 p.m. and midnight to prevent drunken people from flooding into the village just before the stroke of midnight.

Roadblocks will be set up at Highway 99 and Panorama Drive just south of the village and at Highway 99 and the Nicklaus North golf course north of the village. Police will seize any open liquor in cars. If there are minors in the car liquor will be seized. If in the police's judgement there is more liquor in a car than 19-year-olds and over can drink, that too will be seized.

Haider also said if people in the car have nowhere to stay for the night in Whistler, police will presume that they will be drinking in public and they could be turned away.

He advised people to get any booze to parties during the day so that there's no risk it will be taken by police en route to the party that night. "I strongly recommend that anyone going from Nordic to Emerald for a party (for example), that they make arrangements beforehand," he said.

"Because if they have to come through the village and they're carrying liquor... we are obligated to confiscate it."

Extra police will be on hand to enforce the zero tolerance policy.

"We're having extra resources come in, more than usual, in keeping with past years," said Haider.

"We want to ensure that our community and our residents are safe."

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