NEWMAN - The recent Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting which killed three people hit particularly close to home for many West Siders and has heightened security awareness as the Newman Fall Festival approaches.
Newman Police Chief Randy Richardson said police will be out in force during the community’s traditional Labor Day weekend event and will again be a very visible presence at Fall Festival activities. Two more officers than usual will be assigned to the festival, Richardson said. But, he emphasized, officers will be following a security blueprint which has been in place for years rather than one drafted in response to recent events.
Should a major incident occur, Richardson stressed, police do have response plans and protocols in place.
He acknowledged that in light of the Gilroy shooting and having suffered the loss of an officer with the murder of Cpl. Ronil Singh last December, officers will be on a heightened sense of alert as they provide security for the Fall Festival crowds.
Richardson said police will also be monitoring social media more closely as the festival approaches, and will look into any social media posts of concern brought to the department’s attention.
“Does it make us more aware? Absolutely,” Richardson stated. “We are super-vigilant now because we have learned a difficult lesson that it can happen anywhere.”
Richardson said police will stop those wearing gang colors from coming in to the festival, and will keep close tabs on known gang members or on anybody whose behavior or attire raises a red flag.
“If you see somebody wearing cargo shorts and flip-flops, that is not uncommon. You see a guy in fatigues and a long-sleeved shirt or jacket....” he said by way of example. “Generally, you get kind of an indication pretty quickly if somebody is looking for trouble. We will be diligent about potential threats.”
Officers are also prepared to respond quickly in the event that trouble breaks out, he emphasized.
At the Fall Festival that typically involves nothing more serious than the occasional altercation, Richardson noted, which is often the result of ongoing tensions simmering between two parties that boils over when those involved cross paths at the festival.
For all of the security preparations, Richardson acknowledged, there can sometimes be no way of anticipating a random act of violence.
“(Gilroy police) responded very quickly. Could they have done anything more? I don’t think so? Could we do anything more (in a similar situation)? No,” the chief stated. “They had gates and security. If (somebody) wants to do harm, they will find a way.”
Richardson said the Fall Festival - and the community as a whole - enjoy a reputation for safety.
He said law enforcement works to maintain a safe, family-friendly environment at the festival without being a heavy-handed presence.
In the current festival format, Richardson said, he envisions little else that could be done in terms of security without detracting from the atmosphere of the event.
“Could we pack the park with cops from allied agencies? Yes, we could,” he remarked. “Is that the type of event that people want to go to?”
Between routine patrol duties and Fall Festival assignments, every officer will be working that weekend.
“Nobody gets days off. We bring everybody and we will be prepared,” Richardson stated. “We have a plan in place every year. There is an operations plan that goes along with the Fall Festival for emergency situations. We’ve had that plan in place for years, and have never really needed it. We will be ready. This is just something we do every Labor Day weekend.”