La Crosse PD to up this year’s Oktoberfest safety measures

In less than two days, La Crosse will be filled with the sights and sounds of Oktoberfest.

The annual celebration brings out tens of thousands of people, and this year the La Crosse Police Department is upping patrols and security to keep people safe.

“People want to come [and] they want to have a safe and fun fest,” said Capt. Robert Lawrence of the La Crosse Police Department.

Lawrence said a new year means a new opportunity for the department to improve on last year’s efforts.

“A lot of it is just thinking outside the box, deploying our resources differently,” said Lawrence.

This year, the changes includes having the first-ever boat-patrolling unit on the river during the late evening to early morning hours of both weekends.

“The patrolling will primarily cover from Houska Park up to Copland Park to cover both fest grounds,” said interim Police Chief Rob Abraham of the La Crosse Police Department. “This will provide us with the immediate response should we have an incident that occurs on the water.”

Bike patrols including Lt. Joseph Smith will also be more mobile between the downtown and college campus areas.


“Last year, we had quite an influx of students causing problems,” said Smith. “So we decided to reallocate some of the people we had downtown to try and prevent that from happening this year.”

Also new this year, police will be putting in a 24-hour command post between Pine and Vines streets. It’s an area that’s densely populated with college students. It’s also an area that saw two of the more notorious crimes last year — one where a group of people tossed around a dead squirrel and another where a car was flipped.

These changes mean long hours and about double the staffing with help from other units in surrounding communities, but Lawrence said it’s worth it to ensure a safe and fun fest.

“In reality, most people are behaving themselves and having a good time,” said Lawrence. “There’s just a segment of people who are not being responsible, who are not being good neighbors to the people around them, and those are the people that we have to address.”

The Police Department is also working with area landlords on tips to ensure their properties stays safe during the festivities.

They’ve also handed out fliers to the three college campuses to remind residents of the fines and consequences for rowdy behavior.

This weekend’s Oktoberfest also comes in the midst of a major double homicide investigation.

Paul Petras, 56, and his son AJ, 19, were gunned down in their family business May’s Photo on Main Street Sept. 15.

Police are still working to find the shooter.

While they are devoting a lot of staff to Oktoberfest, Lawrence said it will not disrupt the on-going investigation.

“This is what Oktoberfest is always about,” said Lawrence. “It’s complicated when you have a major investigation. It’s kind of like, ‘OK here’s all of your work, it’s the busiest time of year, and now here’s twice as much work’ that’s what we’re really facing, but we’re managing quite well. We really are dedicating different resources for different things, and making sure that we maintain that investigation.”

Police had no new details to release on the investigation Wednesday.

They still say there is no additional known or imminent threat to public safety.