For police, Sailfest planning pays off

Crowds fill Waterfront Park during Sailfest in New London Saturday, July 13, 2013.
Crowds fill Waterfront Park during Sailfest in New London Saturday, July 13, 2013. Tali Greener/Special to The Day Buy Photo

New London - Area police departments prepare months in advance of Sailfest, coordinating a large police presence to direct traffic and control crowds.

Those preparations appeared to be successful Friday and Saturday as New London and Groton City police responded to a small number of minor incidents.

New London Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said plans for this year's Sailfest began as soon as last year's came to a close.

Immediately following Sailfest 2012, Reichard said, the police department began discussions on what could be done differently - different traffic patterns, where officers need and don't need to be stationed, and if barricades and signs can replace actual police presence.

This year, the department has 15 fewer officers, so the 60 or so working during Sailfest had to be shuffled around, he said.

Coordination with other local departments begins about three months or so in advance, Reichard said. That includes Stonington, Norwich, Waterford, East Lyme, Plainfield and State Police, as well as Amtrak police and state police's Emergency Services Unit. Homeland Security agents and one FBI agent also coordinate with local police.

In all, 19 additional officers from neighboring towns assist New London police throughout the weekend.

Police have stations set up at the waterfront, on Bank Street, and at the department's unified command center at the New London Fire Department. A mass casualty trailer is also set up on Bank Street.

Reichard said a bomb sweep is done every morning of the event, though he declined to say in which specific locations.

Immediately following the fireworks, Reichard said, the biggest police priority is directing traffic and ushering vehicles out of the city. Officers remain in place until the crowds disperse in the evening. This is usually the most active time for local police, Reichard said of the nighttime crowds.

Across the river in Groton, Lt. Bruce Lowe of the Groton City Police Department said police take several weeks to pinpoint critical areas for pedestrian and vehicular traffic and to distribute officers, which includes which streets to barricade.

Thames Street becomes a "pedestrian mall" during the fireworks, Lowe said, and the road is blocked off accordingly from Bridge Street to Eastern Point Road. The road is shut down around 6 p.m. and opens back up after pedestrians have dispersed, typically around 10:30 p.m.

Lowe said the department coordinates in the weeks leading up to the fireworks with Groton Town, East Lyme, Ledyard, Montville, Groton Long Point and State Police as well as the Coast Guard. A State Police bomb unit does a sweep around 5 p.m. at two main viewing locations - Thames Street and Fort Griswold.

Twenty-three officers from Groton City patrol the streets during the fireworks and 24 from Groton Town; about 15 more join them from neighboring police departments.

The FBI also has one agent posted in Groton at its command post at the Groton City Fire Department's Company 2 in the event of a "significant incident," he said.

"In light of how fortunate we have been, one doesn't have to think too far back to think of what happened in Boston," Lowe said. "We're always mindful of that type of thing, having a potential … something devastating like that happening."

Most incidents are typically minor, he added - the occasional drunken driver or a fight that breaks out at a private party.

"We usually try to keep a pretty good lid on that," he said. "We have a decent number of officers that are available and they're posted in key locations so they can clamp down on anything that seems to be getting out of hand."

On the water side, Operations Petty Officer Jeff Thor said the Coast Guard coordinates with multiple local law enforcement agencies and emergency services and fire departments to keep an enforcement presence on the river.

Thor said he is in charge of putting together an "incident action plan" - the Coast Guard's in-house policies and procedures and steps taken to enforce safety and security on the water - to present to local fire and police departments during meetings over the couple of months leading up to Sailfest.

The Coast Guard keeps two boats on the water; for the fireworks, a total of 13 fire and police boats - including those from State Police, the Mystic Fire Department, Goshen Fire Department, the Quaker Hill Fire Department, Ledyard Police, East Lyme Police, Old Saybrook Police, Groton Town Police and Waterford Police - were on the water.

a.isaacs@theday.com

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