With three mass shootings occurring in a span of just a week across the country, the Lodi Police Department is not taking the possibility of a similar incident occurring at upcoming local events lightly.
During a National Night Out briefing Tuesday evening, officials with the department said plans to increase security and patrols for the Lodi Grape Festival are currently being developed.
On Friday, Capt. Sierra Brucia said while the department has not received any messages of concern or fear from the community, it is developing plans as a proactive measure to ensure festival guests and staff are safe.
“You always get a few questions after something like Gilroy happens,” Brucia said. “Knowing that something like that can happen anywhere gets on people’s minds. They want to know if we’re prepared to handle those kinds of situations. We are prepared, and we’re always preparing.”
On July 28, just minutes before the Gilroy Garlic Festival came to a close for the year, a man opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, killing three people and injuring 13. The shooter, later identified as 19-year-old Santino William Legan, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Authorities believe Legan entered the festival, which employed strict security checks at the front gate, by cutting through a chain-link fence along the event’s perimeter.
The following weekend, on Aug. 3, a gunman opened fire inside an El Paso, Tex. Walmart, killing 22 people and injuring 24 others. Police arrested Patrick Wood Crusius, 22, shortly after the shooting.
Hours later in Dayton, Ohio, a man opened fire outside a bar, killing 10 and injuring 27 people. The shooter, identified as Connor Stephen Betts, 24, was killed by police.
On Friday, Brucia said the measures the department is considering are not so much an increase in its policing efforts, but a ‘redeployment’ of its resources.
“We have a drone that we haven’t used in the past that we could use for overhead surveillance,” he said. “Not only would that add to our presence at the festival, but it gives us an opportunity to patrol without using a body.”
Brucia added the department is considering deploying patrol rifles at the event as well to allow officers to respond to a major incident immediately and effectively.
In addition, detectives and officers are always at the entry gates assisting festival staff in searching bags and backpacks, as well as monitoring the metal detectors that have been in place for several years.
“We’re looking for people we know might be wanted, or have been known to cause trouble in town in the past,” Brucia said. “We continue to do these things, and we always have, in order to ensure the community is safe.”
Festival director Mark Armstrong said incidents like those that occurred in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton, are things for which events organizers can never prepare.
However, when he saw reports of the Gilroy shooting, he said he immediately began thinking of what other measures he could employ for Grape Festival weekend.
“Our goal is to do everything we can possibly do to make sure (a shooting) doesn’t happen,” he said. “I’d like to think that something like that can’t happen in in a town like Lodi, but these days, you just never know where something might occur.”
Security measures at the Grape Festival began increasing right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Armstrong said, and over the years, he has added bag searches at each gate, increased private security staffing, increased lighting on the grounds, and has implemented a “no re-entry” policy.
With all the security measures implemented, including the metal detectors, some 70,000 attended last year’s event and only two people were arrested, he said.
“When we first put the metal detectors in, people really didn’t like them,” Armstong said. “Yeah, it’s inconvenient to have to go through them. But now, it doesn’t bother them and I think they do welcome them, given you have to go through them just about everywhere anymore.”
Armstrong said he and his staff are working on an awareness piece of literature to give to guests as they enter the festival. The handout will remind attendees to be aware off their surrounding and aware of other people, as well as point out key festival locations such as the lost and found and emergency exits.
He said he will be meeting with the police department early next week to flesh out the details of a collaborative security effort for the festival.
The Lodi Grape Festival will be held at the festival grounds, 413 E. Lockeford St., in Lodi, Sept. 12-15. For more information, visit www.grapefestival.com.