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Fair enough? Measures aim for safer event in West Allis

Extra state patrol was called in by Gov. Walker at the Wisconsin State Fair in 2011. West Allis police think they will be in better position to handle trouble this year.

Extra state patrol was called in by Gov. Walker at the Wisconsin State Fair in 2011. West Allis police think they will be in better position to handle trouble this year. Photo By Jeff Sainlar

July 25, 2012

West Allis - If trouble breaks out at the Wisconsin State Fair as it did last year, police will be in a better position to put a lid on it with the new measures the fair has in place this year, predicted West Allis Deputy Police Chief Charles Padgett.

Authorities will seek to derail the kind of violence that marred the 2011 event's opening day, when dozens of youths punched and kicked people as they left the fair, pounded on cars and stopped traffic outside State Fair Park. The racially charged violence started with fights among the black youths on the midway.

As a result of the violence, the fair did not allow those under 18 to come in after 5 p.m. unless they were accompanied by a parent or guardian. That restriction applied for the remaining days of the fair and will be back for this year's fair, which runs from Aug. 2 to 12.

Also established last year as a result of the violence was a police command post on the fairgrounds enabling West Allis and other police to keep up on what was happening inside the fair. That, too, will be back, along with refined coordination among all the law enforcement authorities, including the West Allis and Milwaukee police, the Wisconsin State Patrol and the fair police force itself.

More cameras will keep an eye on what's happening and they will be monitored at the West Allis Police Department as well as at the command station.

Hope for better fair

But will it be enough?

"Human behavior is interesting - I don't get surprised too often," Padgett said. "But we are prepared much more this year and preparation has to help us identify or head off anything brewing."

Similarly hopeful is Rick Frenette, chief executive offer of the Wisconsin State Fair.

"Should any situation arise, we will be quicker to respond and avoid the escalation of last year," Frenette said.

Fair security and all the law enforcement agencies, plus the Milwaukee County Transit System, have met every month since September to make sure everything possible is done to keep the fair safe and fun.

"We had very candid discussions," but everyone was committed to working as a team, Padgett said.

He added that he is pleased with the results.

"I've been through 23 state fairs and this is absolutely the most coordination we've ever done," Padgett said.

Coordinated efforts

Part of that coordination focuses on police being aware of the midway closing early because of trouble. Last year, trouble makers were flushed onto the streets when the midway closed early and they created what some described as a near riot.

"That was clearly a topic of our discussions," Padgett said. "But the efforts in place pretty much guarantee if it happens again, we would know about it."

West Allis police have their own plans for keeping the streets safe outside the fair.

"We'll have a good strong presence," Padgett said.

At least initially it won't be the kind of police presence that saturated surrounding neighborhoods after the first-day violence last year, he said.

Similarly, police don't plan to ask nearby businesses, such as the McDonald's, to close early to prevent youths from congregating, "but we reserve that as an option," Padgett said.

Police will decide later whether Greenfield Avenue should be blocked off at closing time during the fair's last day to get people out of the area more quickly. That has been common practice since 2006, Padgett said, noting that the last day has often seen misbehavior. Police didn't close Greenfield Avenue down last year.

Despite the first-day violence, fair attendance was up 4 percent with 911,231 visitors.

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