District of Columbia officials said yesterday that inadequate planning and lack of police equipment caused them to lose control of the frenzied crowd of 500,000 people who braved a cold rain last Wednesday to cheer the Washington Redskins.
"This kind of event, you don't want to stifle," said Joseph P. Yeldell, acting director of the city's Office of Emergency Preparedness, during a meeting of officials to review what went wrong. "However, you look at that logistically, you know there were problems."
Yeldell said he "didn't see any evidence" that authorities had control of the lunchtime parade.
Several officials said yesterday that it was never clear to them who was actually running the parade and that police, though they are experienced in dealing with hostile crowds, were overwhelmed by the outpouring of fans packed together at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW where the parade was to begin.
"People sort of made it a Mardi Gras situation," said Police Capt. Louis Widawski of the Special Operations Division. Widawski said the crowd stayed several hours rather than dispersing quickly as police had expected.
Guy Draper, a staff aide to Fauntroy who was in charge of scheduling the event but who did not attend yesterday's meeting, said that officials thought 100,000 persons at most would show up in bad weather, and that perhaps 250,000 would attend on a nice day.
"It was just a horrible set of circumstances that compounded themselves all afternoon," Draper said.
The parade never really had an official start, because of crowds jamming the streets. Meanwhile, the football players were quickly herded onto buses rather than the originally planned convertible cars with the players' names on them.
The buses and some cars carrying politicians nudged through the crowds along 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, but some marching bands and other participants were forced to abandon any hope of stepping off behind the buses. "People were tearing the signs off the sides of the cars," Draper said.
Of the several hundred calls to Fauntroy's office since the event, Draper said, fewer than 40 were critical of the celebration. "That's the important thing," he said.
Police officials, speaking at the meeting of the Mayor's Task Force on Special Events, said that the city owns few wooden barricades, a common piece of crowd control equipment in many cities, and that they were reluctant to use force because the crowd was not hostile.
"A celebration crowd is the hardest to control," said Sgt. Hampton W. Johnson. "You can't use standard crowd control techniques because there is no criminal intent."
New York City has "26 miles of wooden barricades," said Widawski.
Yeldell, who took over the emergency office in January, said it was "deplorable that there are no effective tools for crowd control." But he said the event could have been worse.
"Because of the rain, the crowd was held down," he said. "We might have had a million or so."