INDIANAPOLIS– Last year, with one day to go, the Marion County Fair was on the verge of setting an attendance record.
Instead, with Marion County deputies distracted while breaking up a fight on the midway, someone pulled out a gun and started shooting on South Fisher Road near the fair parking lot as everyone was trying to leave.
Two people were wounded, five people were arrested and several guns were confiscated.
The last day of the fair was cancelled and there would be no attendance record set in 2020.
This year’s Marion County Fair starts Friday and runs through July 4 and features beefed up security inside and out.
“We’ve sectioned off, or cordoned off, our parking lot, we’ve eliminated parking inside our venue so all foot traffic and pedestrian traffic coming into the event has to go through the main entrance here at Gate Four,” said Executive Director Jeremiah Tevebaugh. “This year we have walk-thru metal detectors. We have new standard operating procedures in place. Anyone seventeen or younger has to be accompanied by an adult and we’ve restricted it to no more than three per one adult.”
Tevebaugh has made the fairgrounds entrance more secure by adding fencing and lines leading to the ticket booths.
“We’re calling it a mousetrap for lack of a better term,” he said, “but basically it’s a serpentine to restrict movement so they have a spot and go through metal detectors and then we got bag searches and things like that and if it comes to a soft pat down, we’ve got an area where we can pull them over and do that.”
Tevebaugh said there will be added security in the 40-acre parking lot opposite of Gate Four, more lighting, surveillance cameras and private security officers on the approach roads and walking the fairgrounds perimeter.
Off-duty law enforcement officers will augment the private security and IMPD said it will have officers on stand by near the fairgrounds.
Unlike years past, fair attendees will not see Marion County sheriff’s deputies.
“Our decision not to participate in the security at the County Fair this year was not based solely on our current staffing issues,” reads a statement from the MCSO which indicates overall staff size is down by 20%. “The Road Patrol Division of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department was transferred over a dozen years ago to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Since then, County Fair security has been cobbled together using a large contingent of the MCSO’s Reserve Division, and mandatory overtime for members of several other Divisions. We have discussed with the Fair Board for several years that we could not continue to participate while fulfilling the MCSO’s required operations of securing the Jail and Courts, especially given a nearly 20% reduction in MCSO staff.
“The sheriff’s office must continue to be fiscally responsible while focusing on our statutorily required duties,” said Forestal.
“We’ve done months and months of preparation and training and different scenario situations,” said Tevebaugh. “Most of our security staff, if not all, has event experience where they’ve worked private events before.”
Key to keeping the fair safe this summer will be parental responsibility, according to Fair Communications Director Adbul Hakim-Shabazz.
“We want people to bring their kids. We want to have a family friendly environment but at the same time we don’t want any troublemakers,” he said. “The problem was young unaccompanied minors, folks that just come, drop their kids off, leave and then just pick them up late. No, you just can’t do that. If you’re going to bring your kids out to the fairgrounds, we expect you to be a parent and take responsibility for your children and be there with them or have an adult be there with them as well.”
Hakim-Shabazz said that while the 2020 fair was on the verge of setting an attendance record, he expects this year’s turnout to swell that response in the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.