Independence Day: The police's playbook
Published 1:29 am, Friday, July 2, 2010
With hundreds of boats filling the local waters and tens of thousands of people descending on this town's beaches on Sunday, the Fairfield Police Department will be out in full force.
Officers working the day shifts on Sunday will be kept on for the evening and those working the midnight shift will be called in early. All special officers will be working, too. Bike officers will ride up and down the beach-area streets. Detectives and plain-clothes officers will be strolling up and down the beach.
"We want to get people to the beach, pack them in safely, allow them to enjoy the show, and get them home," said Lt. Tom Mrozek.
This will be the first big event for Chief-elect Gary MacNamara at the helm of the police department -- and Mrozek said he's taking it very seriously.
"He's making sure everything's handled very professionally," Mrozek said.
Doing so hitch-free will require a good deal of police-beachgoer cooperation. Here's a break-down of what the police are looking for.
Starting Saturday afternoon, signs will be posted along the streets in the beach area, marking where parking is forbidden. There will be ticketing zones and there will be tow-away zones, and the tow trucks will be hard at work, Mrozek said.
Those signs will kick into effect at 5 p.m. on Sunday. Beginning at 6 p.m., there will be free parking at the Jennings and Penfield parking lots. But once those lots are filled, Mrozek said, drivers should park at the shopping centers along Post Road.
At the show
All forms of fireworks -- including sparklers -- are forbidden from use at the beaches. Alcohol, too, is prohibited.
Though sparklers are allowed on private property in Connecticut, they're not allowed at the Fairfield beaches, and anyone caught with them will be subject to a mail-in infraction, Mrozek said.
Anyone caught with more elaborate forms of fireworks -- "Anything that `booms' or shoots into the air," as Mrozek described -- will be arrested.
Merely possessing these heavier fireworks -- without launching them -- will bring about an arrest, Mrozek said. The department instituted that policy about 20 years ago, and its effectiveness has steadily grown.
During the first year the policy was in place, officers arrested about 50 people in one night alone, Mrozek said. But last year, the police made zero arrests for either sparklers or heavier fireworks.
Additionally, once the sun sets and the sky darkens, the water will be closed for swimming by the lifeguard staff. The water is not to be entered after this point till Monday morning.
Where to find officers
The police will set up stations behind the Jennings Beach lifeguard shack and behind the Penfield Pavilion, Mrozek said. There will also be a heavy presence there by the fire department and emergency medical personnel -- "For everything from a heart attack to a cut," Mrozek said.
On a boat
Each year, several hundred boats set anchor around the fireworks barge to get up-close views of the explosions. This is fine, as long as boats stay outside of the security zone demarcated with orange buoys, said Officer James Wiltsie of the department's marine unit.
The Fairfield marine unit will be out with the Westport, Bridgeport and Stratford police boats, as well as the Coast Guard. The units sail to the neighboring towns' fireworks to offer assistance.
Wiltsie said the biggest caution for boaters is to make sure that their boat's lights are functioning before heading into the Long Island Sound. Each year, he said, when the sun sets, boaters realize their lights aren't working when they're already out at sea.
The police boat will be busy during the day accompanying the fireworks launchers in loading the fireworks to the barge. As the boat runs in and out of the marina, the local gasoline pump needs to be shut off to lessen the chance of an accident.
After the show, Wiltsie asks boaters for patience and to follow directions as they parade back to their respective harbors.
Squeezing thousands of cars through the bottleneck that inevitably forms at the ends of beach-side roads is one of the department's greatest challenges, Mrozek said.
To help matters, the department is opening up both lanes of traffic to vehicles heading toward the Post Road. This policy will apply to the main arteries to the Post Road, such as Reef Road, Beach Road and Penfield Road, and will continue all the way to the Post Road.
"If people follow this, it will cut traffic time down in half," Mrozek said.