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Security force gives fair-goers sense of safety

February 28, 2001|By MARCY MISNER, Staff Writer

IMPERIAL — Incidents of violence at the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta have been mostly rare over the years, and that's due in no small part to an ever-present security force on duty every year.

Security is provided on a contractual basis by the county Sheriff's Office, represented by deputies, sheriff's reserves and members of the sheriff's mounted posse, said Bill Blair, chief executive officer of the Imperial Valley Expo. Additional help comes from the county Probation Department, Imperial and El Centro police and others.

"I am very pleased with the way we do security … and (with) the guys and gals we hire part-time to work on the security force," Blair said.

"(Security) gives families and the general fair patron the sense they are coming into an event where they won't have to worry about their safety," Blair said.


Blair said there is always the potential for gang violence or fights between fair patrons. He said when a large number of people are gathered, "human nature doesn't always take the right course." Still, there have been few incidents over the years and any fights between patrons have been "nipped in the bud," he said.

Without providing the numbers of security officers who work during the fair, Blair did say there are lots of guards in uniform and plainclothes and on horseback who patrol everywhere — the parking lots, the animal barn areas, the carnival and other fair facilities.

Peer security wear yellow "event staff" polo shirts while sheriff's employees and other police officers wear their uniforms or plainclothes.

Sheriff's Reserve Commander Dean Wells began coordinating fair security for sheriff's employees two years ago. He took over the duties from longtime sheriff's reserve commander Tony Rouhotas. Wells said he has worked security at 18 fairs.

Wells said there has been no shortage of volunteers from the Sheriff's Office to fill slots for fair security duty.

Wells added he is sending letters this year to FFA and 4-H advisers reminding them of the longstanding rule that any teen-ager caught in any kind of criminal activity on the fairgrounds, such as fighting or drinking alcohol, can be barred from selling their animal at the fair.

"I have the blessing of the Fair Board. If I find kids like that, I have the authority to tell them they must remove their animal from the fairgrounds and may not participate in fair activities," Wells warned.

Wells said while other high school kids can cause trouble as well, deputies' experience has been mostly with the teens involved in FFA and 4-H, mostly because of their access to their cars from the stock gate. Teens often bring in coolers stocked with refreshments when they have "barn duty," and while Wells supports that, some kids have abused the privilege and stocked their coolers with beer.

"The facts are the facts. I wish I could change that," Wells said.

"This has been in place for years … but the kids out there try to claim their advisers haven't told them. Of course, alcohol and teen-agers don't mix. I'm out there to make sure we have a safe environment for the families who want to come out and have a good time," Wells said.

Anyone involved in a fight or other criminal activity goes into the fairgrounds command center and gets his or her photo taken. The photos are used to identify someone who has been barred from the fair.

"I tell them if they come back on the fairgrounds, they will be arrested for trespassing and the fair has prosecuted in the past. At the end of the year the pictures are all thrown away. I'm in hopes that from one year to the next, people are going to mature," Wells said.

The fair starts Friday and runs through March 11.

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