City police ready to keep the peace

New London - Officer Joseph Pelchat's first question this Sailfest was about the bathrooms.

"Those aren't open. You're going to have to use the port-a-potties over there," Pelchat told a man on City Pier Friday afternoon.

New London police officers were out in force as visitors began to trickle into Waterfront Park on the first of three days of OpSail/Sailfest weekend. All hands were on deck: Close to the entire 90-person department is scheduled to work this weekend, with many on 16-hour shifts.

The police officers, dressed in bright yellow "New London Police" vests, serve as unofficial ambassadors for a population that may swell to more than 400,000 this weekend.

It is Pelchat's third Sailfest as an officer but his first OpSail. With the large crowd expected, he was one of nearly 20 officers on foot patrol - directing traffic, giving directions and maintaining safety.

Pelchat also was answering questions, with most people wondering about the Saturday night fireworks, where to park and where to find the best food stand.

"Officer!" one man exclaimed as he passed Pelchat and offered his hand. "God bless you, young man, you and the family."

The afternoon passed without a hitch. The officers rotated each hour, making sure everyone was OK, traffic was flowing smoothly, the peace was kept. Friday is the slower day, Pelchat said, but it really ramps up during the night and into Saturday, when road closures take effect and people swarm in for the events and the fireworks.

Even with most of the department on duty, it's hard to tell what is enough. In 2006, when an elderly man drove into a crowd and injured 28, officers close by were among the first on the scene.

"It's the omnipresence," said Sgt. Scott Johnson, who stopped to check in with Pelchat at his City Pier post. "People like to see police officers. Well, most people. It's a family event."

The duties involve people-watching and "making sure things don't get out of hand," Pelchat said. As for a perfect weekend: "It's going well, nothing major, just smooth sailing," he said.

"Let's make sure everybody gets home safe."

s.goldstein@theday.com

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