By Joshua Benton
SALT LAKE CITY – Police fired about 40 foam-tipped bullets to disperse a rowdy crowd outside an alcohol-themed venue Saturday night, officials said. Twenty people were arrested.
The melee began when Bud World, a downtown beer garden set up for the Olympics, became overcrowded, forcing people out onto a neighboring street, officials said. When the crowd became unruly, nearly 100 officers dressed in riot gear were brought in to clear the intersection the crowd was blocking.
But some began throwing beer bottles and cans at the officers, and the officers began to use the foam-tipped bullets to maintain control.
“There were some bottles thrown at police officers, and they responded accordingly,” Mayor Rocky Anderson said. “It’s just amazing that this is all that has happened with these crowds we’ve had every night.”
Police cordoned off sensitive areas downtown, including the hotel housing officials of the International Olympic Committee, and had helicopters hover over the area, using searchlights.
Mitt Romney, CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, shrugged off the incident, saying it was not significant enough for him to be called about it at the time it was happening. Officials described the incident as little more than a minor skirmish. “Last night did not amount to a riot,” Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said.
Chief Dinse said most of those arrested were from the Salt Lake City area and would be charged with misdemeanors such as public intoxication.
The crowd was dispersed by 2 a.m. Police said that there were no serious injuries and that property damage was limited to a few broken windows and some parking meters ripped out of the ground. The incident was managed by local police without the assistance of the many other agencies working on Olympic security.
Bud World’s sponsor, Anheuser-Busch, is an official Olympic sponsor and was the target of pre-Games opposition from those who feared that Bud World would appeal to too young an audience. Utahans consume less alcohol per capita than residents of any other state.
Alcohol was one of the more contentious issues in planning the Games. Its sale is more restricted in Utah than in most other states, and some conservatives did not support loosening those restrictions for the influx of visitors. Mr. Anderson has advocated liberalizing Utah’s alcohol laws and helped arrange for temporary alcohol permits for some downtown businesses. Many are operating by stringing together several of the three-day temporary alcohol permits allowed by law.
Despite fears of security problems, Saturday night’s disturbance was by far the biggest of the Games. Nearly 15,000 security personnel are working at the Olympics, and organizers spent $310 million on security.