Park City cops step up patrols during Sundance

Beefed-up force spends nights dealing with intoxicated revelers.
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Park City • It was midnight in Park City and almost on cue, a call crackled in over the radio: A fight had broken out.

"Here we go," said Officer John Paul Torres as he flipped on the siren and hit the gas.

The Park City Police SUV lurched forward, dodging taxis and limos filled with Sundance glitterati. At a sharp corner near Main Street, Torres yanked the steering wheel hard to the right, sending everything in the SUV flying. At the roundabout, he veered onto a curb to avoid snarled traffic. Seconds later, Torres pulled up in a residential neighborhood behind several other police vehicles and approached two men who were already squinting under police flashlights.

The fight turned out to be a scuffle between two roommates over a parking space. They "hugged it out," Torres explained 30 minutes later, and the officers dispersed back into the city.

That incident illustrates the challenge posed by the Sundance Film Festival, when both the population and number of parties in Park City explode. As of Tuesday, police spokesman Capt. Phil Kirk had no statistics on his department's activity but said that during the busy opening weekend of the festival everything had gone "like clockwork."

He also said that over the years the department has learned how to cope with the crowds and staffs extra officers.

"It more than doubles the size of our force," Kirk explained.

But that doesn't mean the cops aren't busy. Torres' shift began Saturday around 9 p.m. with a call about a possible assault at a Main Street bar. When he arrived, the bartender and manager said a young man had become belligerent so they asked him to leave. The young man — who made the call — took nearly two hours to return to the scene but finally claimed to be an actor who asked for a free drink and was attacked by the bartender.

"If anybody goes into that restaurant they're probably going to get choked and killed," the man shouted just before he grabbed his ID out of Torres' hand and stomped away.

Afterward, Torres said he smelled alcohol on the man's breath and added that much of the police work during Sundance involves people who have imbibed too much.

Torres later headed to the city's periphery to look for erratic or speeding drivers. Traffic forced most of the cars to go slow, and before long Torres was called back into the heart of the city to check bars for compliance with city ordinances. He parked his car on Main Street and began walking.

Torres and another officer first headed to a dance party with music blasting out of a second-floor balcony. At the door, a bouncer smiled when he saw the police uniforms. He waved both officers into a dark room throbbing with a heavy bass line.

"They want to work with us," Torres said as he stepped inside, "because if they don't, we shut them down."

The bouncer brought Torres a clicker that showed how many people were inside. He also agreed to turn off the exterior music. Before the officers left, the party organizer strode over and shook their hands.

Then Torres checked two bars. At the first, California-based band Vintage Trouble was entertaining a crowd of hipsters and miniskirted women near a sunken stage. At the second, a bouncer whispered to Torres at the door.

"Did you see James Franco? He was just here."

Torres didn't see Franco, but neither bar was over capacity so the officers moved on to a third venue where a young-looking woman with a fake-looking ID had passed out. Fire crews soon arrived and carried her into an ambulance, but she awoke and began screaming profanities at everyone within earshot. Officers eventually had to handcuff her to the gurney.

Torres rode with the young woman to a hospital and other officers later reported that she likely would be booked into jail for assaulting medical personnel. The incident finally ended as the officers dispersed to a series of other calls related to fights and over-intoxication. The bars were still hopping. —

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