Under Watch At Wakarusa

Law enforcement officials at the June 8-11 Wakarusa festival in Clinton Lake State Park, Kansas, used covert, high-tech surveillance to keep an eye out for illegal activity, and many attendees have flooded online message boards with complaints of civil liberties violations.

Methods used by the police during the third year of the Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival were leaked in a September issue of trade publication Government Security News, and a Kansas newspaper recently brought those methods to the attention of not only festivalgoers, but the organizer himself.

Promoter Brett Mosiman said in a statement that park authorities and festival organizers had agreed that increased enforcement was due for 2006, and the festival would not have occurred without it. The use of undercover cameras, however, was a different story.

Mosiman told the Lawrence Journal he had no idea there were high-tech police surveillance cameras monitoring the festival, and only discovered it when he read an article in the newspaper.

In preparation for Wakarusa 2006, Clinton State Park manager Jerry Schecher told the Journal he had considered using surveillance after he met a security rep at a Kansas Narcotics Officers’ meeting and discussed concerns about drug dealing at the festival.

In exchange for providing the venue for California security equipment specialist NS Microwave Systems’ products, Kansas law enforcement got to test out the high-tech, expensive equipment – for free.

Officials used hidden wireless cameras, periscope viewers, night vision image enhancers, and a 21-foot command trailer to oversee 85 percent of the festival grounds, GSN reported, in a surveillance demonstration that attracted not only the local law enforcement but members of the FBI, DEA and Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

With the equipment, officials were able to oversee the legal and illegal festivities taking place, including many drug deals, GSN reported.

More than 80 people from 28 states were arrested for alcohol and drug violations, according to Douglas County Jail records. There were reportedly no drug-related arrests made by sheriffs at the festival in 2005.

“This is a crowd that has a high expectation of privacy and freedom, and I respect that, within limits,” Schecher told the Journal. “I struggled with this a little bit, but I felt like we were doing it for the right reasons. If it was meant to be Big Brother and spying on people, I wouldn’t have done it.”

But Mosiman disagreed.

“There is simply no justification for these types of tactics to be used on an otherwise courteous and peaceful crowd,” he said. “We are searching for moral, political and legal support to help us resolve the issues we all faced this year.”

In postings on the Wakarusa Web site forums, some festival attendees have suggested filing complaints with the Kansas ACLU, class-action lawsuits and boycotting the event.

As for the status of Wakarusa 2007, the future remains cloudy.

“If there are not significant assurances that similar procedures won’t materialize in the future we will not host another Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival,” Mosiman said.

This year’s lineup included The Flaming Lips, Yonder Mountain String Band, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Gov’t Mule, Tea Leaf Green, and Hurra Torpedo.