Police: All hands on deck for Sailfest

New London police officers keep watch over festival-goers from the corner of State and Water streets as thousands gather in downtown New London for the 39th annual Sailfest on July 9, 2016.  As the festival returns this weekend, area police say they're readying for the swell of people and traffic.  (Tim Cook/The Day)
New London police officers keep watch over festival-goers from the corner of State and Water streets as thousands gather in downtown New London for the 39th annual Sailfest on July 9, 2016. As the festival returns this weekend, area police say they're readying for the swell of people and traffic. (Tim Cook/The Day)

New London — As thousands of residents and visitors make plans for fireworks, tall ships, music, rides and food along the Thames River, area police say they're readying for the swell of people and traffic Sailfest will produce this weekend.

New London police Chief Peter Reichard said other than a few officers out with injuries and one on military leave this weekend, all hands are on deck for the annual summertime festival.

"Every available officer is on duty," he said, adding police and the Sailfest Committee would be active on social media "to give notice ahead of time" of any issues or delays.

Reichard said state police planned to partner with the New London Marine Group Regional Dive Team to perform sweeps of the waterfront. State police "also have some of their explosive ordnance people here over the weekend" working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, he added.

Reichard said over the years, manpower issues and competition from Riverfest in Hartford have led to a lighter state police presence on city roadways during Sailfest. State police said they were assisting New London either on city roads or ramps at Interstate 95.

Eight officers from area departments, including East Lyme, Waterford, Montville and Norwich, are assisting New London for Sailfest this year.

Reichard said the festival requires mutual aid every year. He noted that the towns pay their own officers to assist other municipalities, sometimes with on-duty pay and sometimes overtime. But he said mutual aid is balanced because departments frequently help one another.

"Last Sunday was the Norwich fireworks, we had two officers there," said Reichard, who noted New London officers also assist at the Niantic/East Lyme Light Parade and some events in Montville and Waterford.

Groton Town police Chief Louis J. Fusaro Jr. said his department collaborates with Groton City police and others "to make sure people not only feel safe but are in fact safe, and to help with traffic control, a daunting effort."

Sailfest draws thousands to Groton, particularly every fireworks night, Fusaro said.

In addition to regular patrols, "a large contingent gets mobilized," with extra Groton Town police officers on duty assisting in areas typically patrolled by Groton City police.

"We want to make sure ... that we provide any resources so it does go off smoothly," Fusaro said. "After the fireworks, everybody tries to leave at the same time. Inevitably there are some areas that get a bit congested. Fortunately, in my experience, it goes relatively well. It's a family event, well received by all the communities in southeastern Connecticut."

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Foxwoods Resort Fireworks Extravaganza, produced by Garden State Fireworks, is set for 9 p.m. Saturday.

The U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday said it expected increased marine traffic on the Thames River due to Sailfest and the fireworks.

Coast Guard and maritime law enforcement units will enforce a 1,000-foot safety zone around the fireworks barge east of New London Waterfront Park between 8:30  and 10:30 Saturday night.

"We urge everyone on the water to remain vigilant and use extra precautions when sailing up and down the Thames River this Saturday," Capt. Kevin Reed, commander of Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, said in a statement. "We would like to remind paddlecraft and other small recreation vessel users to be especially careful. Bigger vessels have trouble maneuvering within congested waters of the Thames River. Smaller crafts are advised to stay off the fairway and use appropriate safety gear like lifejackets at all times."

Sailfest organizers say a first aid and emergency station will be located at the boat house at the base of the Custom House Pier on the New London Waterfront Park. The Custom House Pier also will feature an information booth Friday through Sunday, while Parade Plaza will have an additional information booth on Saturday.

b.kail@theday.com

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