GOSHEN — The Elkhart County 4-H Fair opened Friday, July 19, and units from different law enforcement agencies across the county are already dispersed throughout the fairgrounds to ensure safety.
The Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department is the coordinating agency, but officers from cities within the county, many of them voluntarily, are also helping at the fair.
Undersheriff Sean Holmes said the sheriff’s department can’t go into details about the plans designed for the fair, but in general all agencies maintain open communication between themselves, the fair board, emergency medical services and the fire department.
“Each year we’ve been able to build interdepartmental cooperation,” Holmes said. “We’ve ramped up the work together to make sure we’re on the same page.”
Reserve officers and other departments will help redirect traffic, allowing agencies to stay in the fairgrounds.
Holmes said the recent incident at the LaPorte County fair involving explosive devices and the consequent arrest of three juveniles did not change any plans the fair board and the sheriff’s department had in place.
“Those kinds of issues are something that we are prepared for,” he said. “All we did was reinforce our plans. We didn’t need to scramble and change our plans. Those kinds of things are already considered.”
As part of the fair board’s rules, people cannot bring any items that can be used as a weapon, said Phil Wogoman, director of safety and emergency services.
“Nothing where, if you are careless for a second, you can get somebody hurt,” he said.
That includes pets, bicycles, skates and in-line skates.
Wogoman said help from the sheriff’s department and fair personnel keeping watch at the gates has made their security plans successful.
“I think we have as good a plan as possible when dealing with these kind of numbers,” he said.
Each year, the different agencies meet to determine whether any changes need to be made to their plan, but the system in place allows police, fire and medical personnel to work with small and large quantities in various situations.
“We have to have that general plan that covers everything regardless,” Holmes said. “The general criminal patrols that we do out there are no different than the ones we do at a city, just because it’s so condensed. If a number went from 1,000 to 20,000 it wouldn’t change the approach we took.”
The patrols from officers throughout the fairgrounds make them readily available in an emergency. Holmes said the best way to get help is to call 911.
“That will get the communication rolling no different than if you were calling from home,” he said. “Officers will be notified immediately, so it is set up that way and it’s the quickest way.”