Keeping Herndon Festival Safe

Keeping Herndon Festival Safe

Chitchat on Patrol Encouraged

Herndon Police Capt. Larry Presgrave knows everybody. Or at least it seems that way as he wanders the Herndon festival grounds Friday night, popping his head in numerous vendors' tents, chatting with residents gathered to hear some music or talking with a small group of teens hanging out in front of the stores on Lynn Street.

"I float around. I get to know a lot of people, greet people. I'm the ambassador, so to speak," Presgrave said. "Our officers aren't posted in one place. We want them to move around. We want them to mingle."

Patrolling the Herndon festival for the town's police means a lot of walking, smiling and chitchat with the visitors. It also means keeping an eye out for any suspicious activity and quickly bringing to an end any incidents that do come up.

THE FLOOD of uniformed and plain-clothes officers makes an impact and helps keep problems to a minimum, said Lt. Earl Sheffer, who has been coordinating the security for the festival since 1995 after Presgrave handed him the reins.

"We had very few minor incidents that were taken care of quickly," Sheffer said. "We set up a perimeter in and out of the festival and everyone focused on what they needed to do."

Sheffer said planning for the festival is a year-long venture, with the details starting to be filled in as early as April. Typically, every sworn officer with Herndon does at least one shift at the festival. Support is often provided by the Fairfax County Sheriff's Office, however, this year the department scheduled a training session at the same time. The state police offered to step in and fill the void. Presgrave said the police presence was stepped up a bit compared to previous years, but mostly because of the growing nature of the festival rather than any outside factors such as the homicide on Park Avenue about two weeks ago.

"Each year, the festival grows with more and more events and activities," Presgrave said. "I think we have adequate coverage. The Virginia State Police graciously sent some officers."

OFFICERS ASSIGNED to the festival were paired with a trooper and given a particular area to patrol, such as the carnival or one of the performance stage areas. The Herndon Police's Support Team and Herndon's Community Emergency Response Team members provided traffic control. Support Team members certified in bike patrol also paired up with officers to travel along the bike path.

"The comments I've heard from citizens have been favorable," Presgrave said of the police coverage. "There is a comfort level."

That comfort also had to be extended to the rest of the town, so officers regularly scheduled to be on patrol during the festival, maintained their work schedule. The festival officers and regular patrol officers used separate radio frequencies to avoid any mixed communications.

"We have the festival patrol and the street patrol. The street patrol doesn't know what the festival patrol is doing, and the festival patrol doesn't know what the street patrol is doing," Presgrave said.

IN FACT, this year's festival was relatively quiet. There was one arrest reported, outside of festival grounds. Plain-clothed officers mingled with the crowd and made sure known trouble makers knew they were being watched.

"We talked to a couple of people, asked for IDs and made a couple of people leave the festival," said Sgt. Jerry Keys.

The rainy weather Friday night made patrolling the grounds a little easier for the police.

"I've talked to a young lady interested in doing an internship," said Sgt. Mike Williams of his night. "It gives you a chance to talk to people you might not normally get to talk to."

Williams said the thinner crowds also make it easier for police to keep an eye open for suspicious activity.

Last year, the carnival grounds became so thick with bodies, the police decided to use Genie lifts this time around to get above the crowd. Also new this year, people had to buy tickets for the rides before entering the carnival area, keeping the crowd down to those actually interested in riding the rides.

THE TOWN STAFF also created what it dubbed Unified Command, where representatives from the Herndon and state police, the county fire and rescue, and the town's public works and parks and recreation departments held regularly scheduled meetings, or if called for, emergency meetings, to discuss problems, concerns or make needed adjustments to the original festival operational plan.

"For example, if we have bad weather with lightning, we can call a command meeting and decided whether to shut everything down, try to shelter the people or call in more buses to get them out of here," Presgrave said. "Before, we communicated through radio, and say, I might be near the stage and can't hear, leaving Art [Anselene, the director of public works] to make the call by himself."

The amount of police presence was just right for this year's festival, said Sheffer, "Everything went smoothly."