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Focus on safety this year at Merced County Fair

Local law enforcement agencies and Merced County Fair officials are gearing up to ensure fairgoers that the event will be safe for everyone.

The fair has contracted with the county Sheriff's Department to provide security. The contract is for as much as $41,250, said Diane Conway, spokeswoman for the fair. Other agencies are collaborating with the fair to maximize safety.

"You have to plan for safety because that's the primary concern," Conway said. "You want to assure them it's a safe place to be."

The fair begins Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

There will be metal detectors at all entrance gates, as well as security cameras running 24 hours a day throughout the fair. About 20 sheriff's deputies will patrol at the fairgrounds on weekend days, according to Deputy Tom MacKenzie, sheriff's spokesman. On weekdays, the number of deputies will vary as attendance increases at night.

Deputies will be assigned to areas throughout the fair and will be on the lookout for anything suspicious, MacKenzie said.

"We try to be proactive," he said, "to make sure everybody has a good time. There are a few people who get carried away. Those are the things that we try to take care of."

Deputies will be on the lookout for people displaying gang colors, MacKenzie said. Anyone with gang colors or paraphernalia will be escorted out.

Helicopter possible

The sheriff's helicopter has patrolled above the fairgrounds in previous years and may be used again this year, MacKenzie said.

Merced County probation and parole officers also will be at the fairgrounds, as well as agents from the Merced Multi-Agency Gang Task Force and the Sheriff's Department Explorers.

Jeff Kettering, assistant chief probation officer, said his department will have two to three officers at the fair every night.

"We've been assisting the Sheriff's Department for the last, at least, 10 years at the fair," he said.

Additionally, the Merced Police Department will have its traffic unit devoted to patrolling outside the fair and in the surrounding areas, said Lt. Bimley West. Officers will be on the lookout for vehicles speeding or failing to yield to pedestrians, distracted drivers and parking issues.

They'll also look for suspicious activities such as people trying to break into vehicles.

The traffic unit consists of six officers and one sergeant, West said. More officers will be called if needed, he added.

Gang unit to help

West said the department will have its gang unit inside the fairgrounds and outside the gates to help prevent gang-related incidents.

"We want everything to go well and we want everybody to have a good time and not have to put up with violence," he said.

Officers have made several arrests in previous years for driving under the influence, fighting and vehicles speeding, West said.

"The proactive law enforcement has prevented a lot of major incidents, as well as minor incidents," he added.

Last year, the major incident was an attempted robbery, MacKenzie said.

It's not known how many people the fair will attract this year, but last year it was attended by 65,469 people over six days.

Want presale tickets?

G Street will be closed from 11th Street to Childs Avenue, West said.

Presale tickets are $8 for people 13 and older. Advance tickets can be purchased at the fair office at 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Regular admission will be $10 for adults and $3 for children ages 6 to 12.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at yamaro@ or (209) 388-6507.