Police: Festival safety a high priority

GREENFIELD — Local public safety officials have taken steps to increase security during the Riley Festival in the heart of downtown Greenfield, an effort that was underway before this week’s shootings in Las Vegas.

Heavy barricades at the gathering’s edges and officers donning brightly colored vests to make them more easily identifiable in a crowd are just a few of the changes festival-goers will spot during the festival, which kicks off Thursday afternoon and runs through Sunday.

They’ve put a few other safeguards in place, as well — precautions they won’t release details about in order maximize their effectiveness. But they want festival-goers to know they’ll be safe in the throng of visitors taking to the city’s streets this weekend.

That reassurance comes days after a man opened fire on a crowd of thousands attending a country music festival in Las Vegas on Sunday evening. Nevada law enforcement officers believe 64-year-old Stephen Paddock carried out the mass shooting from his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, killing 59 people and injuring nearly 530 others, according to The Associated Press.

The massacre is the latest in a serious of attacks in recent years that have targeted events, like festivals and concerts, that tend to draw large crowds. Attackers have used cars and trucks, as well as bombs and firearms, to carry out such killings.

Concert-goers also were targeted earlier this year when a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, killed 22 people, according to the AP.

Local authorities have no reason to believe the upcoming Riley Festival would be the target of such an attack; but festival coordinators and police say they’re preparing anyway.

The festival board footed the bill for two people — Greenfield Police Lt. C.W. Murnan and Riley board member Amy Stone — to attend a week-long training seminar earlier this year that focused on improving security at large events.

National experts are always updating the best practices to use when providing protection at festivals and other gatherings, Stone said. Now, she and Murnan can ensure that Riley Festival coordinators are using the newest and most up-to-date information when deciding how to keep people safe.

Since returning from the training, Murnan and Stone have been working hard to implement what they learned into the Riley Festival plans and meeting with other public safety leaders to ensure all those involved with festival security are on the same page, said Greenfield Police Chief Jeff Rasche.

They changes they’ve made are simple ones that will go a long way to ensure families feel comfortable at the event, Rasche said. Greenfield is a safe community, but it never hurts to have precautions in place, he said.

Some are small, Rasche said: for example, all officers have also been told to wear bright safety vests as they comb the crowd, ensuring they can easily found in an emergency.

Others are larger and more noticeable, he said, hearkening back to the lessons learned following terror attacks. Namely, officers have arranged to have barriers placed at the edges of the festival, whether they be concrete barricades or parked vehicles, which will act as blockades should someone try to drive a car through the gathering, Rasche said.

Some of the security precautions that have been put in place are just for first-responders to know, Murnan added. He’s been working with local firefighters and emergency management officials to create plans for how to respond in different emergency situations at the festival.

See something? Say something.

Riley Festival attendees play an important role in keeping the event safe, police said. Anyone who sees something suspicious during the event should find a police officer and report it the information immediately, police said.

An informational tent, manned by festival staff, will be located at the corner of State and Main streets, in front of Greenfield City Hall.

The Greenfield Police Department, 116 S. State St., and Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, 123 E. Main St., Greenfield, are both located within the festival’s perimeter. Each agency will have a tent near the heart of the festival at the corner of State and Main streets as well.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.