Police and Sonoma County Fair officials say they are confident they have measures in place this year that will maintain the fair’s run of being unmarred by gang violence.
“If you look at our history over the last five years, you’ll find there have been very few incidents or arrests, and it’s got a lot to do with our approach,” said Tawny Tesconi, the fair manager.
At the fair’s busiest times, nights and weekends, 50 to 60 private security guards and 18 uniformed police officers will be patrolling the grounds, Tesconi said. Undercover officers will also be on duty. The fair is to pay $133,000 this year toward law enforcement efforts.
Gang-related violence during the 2008 fair — a stabbing and multiple fights — prompted a ramp-up in security that has lasted to this day. While a stabbing took place in 2009 as well, the years since have been uneventful, though police could not make statistics available Thursday.
“The message that we’re putting out there is there’s going to be zero tolerance for any kind of unlawful gang presence or activity,” said Santa Rosa Police Sgt. John Cregan, who heads the gang crimes team.
“Every single night, every day, there will be a very strong presence there,” he said.
The strategy includes partnering with other agencies such as the county probation department, which will also have officers assigned to the fair looking out for people violating their terms of probation.
There is no particular ongoing gang-related conflict that might be expected to potentially spill into the fair, said Cregan, a six-year member of the unit.
“There’s nothing other than that we always see an uptick in rivalry between the norteño and sureño gangs here in the summer months,” he said.
The fair’s environment has “definitely improved,” said Gustavo Mendoza of California Youth Outreach, which works with young people in neighborhoods that are impacted by gangs.
“With law enforcement and probation being proactive, kids who are highly gang involved are not attending,” said Mendoza, lead youth intervention specialist with the Santa Rosa nonprofit group.
Youth he works with who are on probation stay away from the event, he said.
Other youth Mendoza works with are happy to be among the crowds, he said. “They feel safe now — the biggest thing they’re looking forward to is the corn dogs.”
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jeremyhay.