If you and your posse of scofflaws ride over to the WE Fest a’ looking for trouble, better be ready to dance with Johnny Law.
Both the Becker County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota State Patrol are staffing up for the three-day country music festival, which can bring 20,000 to 30,000 people to the Soo Pass Ranch. Most of those people wouldn’t say no to a friendly beer or two, and the party just grows from there.
“It’s no secret there’s a lot of alcohol consumed at that festival,” said State Patrol Capt. Brian Cheney. “The bottom-line goal is to have a safe and fun event for everybody. For many years we have not had a serious injury or fatal crash that’s WE Fest-related,” he said.
To keep the highways safe, the State Patrol brings in extra troopers from across the state to help out during the lead-up to the three-day festival, and during the festival itself, Cheney said.
In the past five years or so, DWI arrests during WE Fest have been significantly lower than they were 10 to 15 years ago, Cheney said. “Last year there were maybe 15 DWIs during WE Fest. Back in the day it was triple that,” he said.
What’s behind the decrease? The large State Patrol presence during WE Fest is a deterrent in itself, Cheney said. “The community has also done a better job of promoting its shuttle services,” he added, “and people are just making better choices, to be honest with you,” he said.
While DWI arrests have been falling, arrests for both prescription and recreational drug-impaired driving have been climbing the past few years, he said. “When you bring that many people together, the likelihood is there (for illegal drugs)."
Two State Patrol K-9 teams will be on hand during WE Fest this year to help sniff out drugs during traffic stops.
While the State Patrol handles Highway 59 and the front gate at WE Fest. the Becker County Sheriff’s Office handles traffic duty on the township and county roads around the sprawling Soo Pass Ranch festival grounds.
“We provide law enforcement response and traffic control,” said Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander.
Based in a mobile command post (provided courtesy of the White Earth Police Department) the sheriff’s office maintains a 24-hour presence on the WE Fest grounds throughout the festival.
With campgrounds surrounding the concert bowl, the Soo Pass Ranch becomes a small city during WE Fest, and though it has its own security workers, sheriff’s officers handle criminal complaints, including theft, trespassing and assault, Glander said.
The tab for that 24-hour protection is not paid by county taxpayers: WE Fest is paying the county $41,000 this year, up $3,000 from last year’s contract. The annual contract has increased by a total of $8,000 since 2014, Glander said.
Because the new county jail is now open and has room available for rowdies arrested at WE Fest, Becker County did not have to clear room in advance this year (as it usually does) by boarding inmates out in other county jails.
“We’d be happy if we did not have to arrest anyone from WE Fest,” Glander said. “We want people to have a good time … Unfortunately, not everyone follows the rules and the law.”