The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, a once-a-year festival held in Indio, California, is one of the biggest and most well-known festivals in the United States. Coachella, as it’s commonly known as, typically draws up to 250,000 people and is held over two three-day weekends in the spring. Festival goers camp, listen to live performances, and do their best to manage the sweltering heat of the southern California sun.
But a festival of 250,000 people requires a lot of planning and management, particularly when you consider the security aspect of it.
Administrative Officer Ben Guitron works for the Indio Police Department, which teams up with festival planners to help staff security and manage festival-goers.
We spoke to Mr. Guitron about Indio PD’s involvement in Coachella security.
“For the last 20 years, we have been the lead law enforcement agency for these festivals in the city of Indio. We provide the law enforcement side of it, but the promoter has other services that help that are security related, like private security,” said Guitron.
Coachella and Stagecoach are not the only festivals that call Indio home. The city puts on many festivals, some small and some as big as Coachella, generating hundreds of thousands of people. This requires Indio PD to boost their numbers for festival days in order to keep the city and the event safe.
“Because of our security plan, we never disclose the amount of staffing,” said Guitron. “But because of the amount and volume of services that need to be done, we have to augment our services. So we contract with additional law enforcement services to assist us, which would be the California Highway Patrol and other municipal agencies in the Coachella Valley to help us provide police services. In every aspect the lead agency is Indio Police Department and then all the other agencies work under our direction.”
Coachella draws large numbers of festival goers every year, many of whom choose to camp on festival grounds. In addition to policing the grounds of the festival, Indio PD is also in charge of policing the camping areas and assisting in traffic control.
Festivals of this size are expensive but all of the funding for the festivals comes from the promoter and not from any of the city’s budget. And while the city isn’t footing the bill, Indio PD still dedicate a significant amount of time to planning the festival, and other events.
“All of the festivals that we do, depending on the size, as soon as the festival is done we’re already planning for the following year. Even though we have a plan, the plan is never done because we’re always adjusting and modifying. As we get closer to the festivals, we go into festival mode. The two to three weeks before the festival we start narrowing our plan into action.”
But if any Indio citizens are worried that the police are focusing too much on Coachella and not enough on regular law enforcement, they shouldn’t be. To Indio Police, the city of Indio is priority #1.
“Our number one obligation is, obviously, the city, which is almost 100,000 people,” said Guitron. “So we have to maintain the same level of services as if there was no festival. That is our responsibility. We run the city law enforcement service 24/7, 365 days a year and then we have a contingency of staff working with the other agencies for the festivals.”
So when Indio police are on festival duty, what is the most common offense that they deal with? The arrests are typically alcohol related offenses, false identification, and possession of drugs. This year’s festival had less arrests than the previous year.
“100,000 people attend the event and on our first weekend, April 11-14, and that event generated 99 arrests. But if you look at the volume of people that attend from around the world, it’s not much, especially when you have an attendance of over 100,000 people,” said Guitron.
And while the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has been held in Indio for nearly twenty years, the Indio Police Department is committed to improving their security strategies and keeping the festival safe and fun for everyone.
“We’ve been doing this for over a decade. We learned a lot from our very first festival and we have changed quite a bit. We’ve learned to make changes as needed, we know that there’s never going be a final plan because things tend to change,” said Guitron.
“When something has gone wrong at a festival, we pay attention so we can improve. It’s no different than when there are natural disasters and everyone tries to be prepared. We’re doing the same thing because we want to make sure that the festivals are safe and that everybody enjoys themselves.”