Fair board plans to take extra safety precautions
Terrorism and perpetrators of other crimes aren't the only concerns; weather also could pose a threat.
By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CANFIELD -- A united force of qualified police officers help ensure the safety of fairgoers, and this year, stricter rules on what visitors can carry in will have an impact, too.
Ticket takers and gate keepers aren't going to search every diaper bag and cooler, but Canfield Fair personnel reserve the right to search anything that might be suspicious, said James C. Evans, fair board director who oversees security.
Gatekeepers also will confiscate anything that could be used as a weapon, issue the owner a receipt and hold it until the owner leaves the fairgrounds, he added. "Our practices parallel state fair practices."
"I don't want random searches, and I don't want total searches," said Evans, a Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge and a former law-enforcement officer. "There must be justification for a search."
Whether a search is necessary will be determined by security personnel Evans described as "well-trained observers."
All of the 240 to 250 security personnel hired for the fair are professional police officers who work throughout Mahoning County. More than 70 will be working the fairgrounds at any given time, he said, including "an abundance of plain-clothes officers."
Strategically placed video cameras also will be in place, and new signs warning visitors about prohibited items will be posted at all entrances.
Protecting the public
Officers working the fair will be fully equipped and will be able to communicate with parking officials, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Canfield Police Department and Mahoning County Sheriff's Department, Evans said.
"It's tough to put together 250 police officers from different departments and expect them to work together, but the cooperation we get from everyone involved is remarkable."
Only officers with proper certification are permitted to carry firearms, he said, "and we insist on seeing the certifications."
Evans doesn't anticipate any problems at the fair. "It's not a high crime event. It's basically good people that come out there," he said. "But it is the largest gathering of people in one area in Mahoning County."
Being prepared for anything that could happen is important in any situation where there are so many people.
Terrorism and perpetrators of other crimes aren't the only concerns, he said. The weather also could pose a threat.
In addition to coordinating police officers, Evans said he meets with the fire department and the county's emergency management agency to map out plans for an evacuation if that would be necessary.
Because officers cannot be everywhere at once, Evans stressed, it is important for fairgoers and employees to inform safety personnel if they notice any suspicious people, vehicles or packages -- anything unusual.
Because safety at the fairgrounds is increasingly important, and because the number of events at the fairgrounds is continuously growing, a full-time, year-round chief of police was hired last year, Evans said.
Chief Billy Arnaut is a retired Youngstown police officer and a coroner's investigator. He is in charge of officers hired to police events held at the fair throughout the year -- horse shows, dog shows, the Hot Rod Super Nationals, and swap meets.
When there are no activities on the grounds, Evans said, Arnaut tracks down individuals who fill the fairgrounds' trash receptacles with their own trash and other minor offenders.
Evans has been a fair board director seven years. He joined the board several years after sending recommendations to the board about how security could be improved. Evans was assistant chief of the Youngstown State University Police Department in the 1970s.