State Fair

Cal Expo braces for the California State Fair with fewer police officers

Kristie Wages decorates a stall in the wine garden in preparation for the California State Fair on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. The fair will open on Friday, July 8, 2016.
Kristie Wages decorates a stall in the wine garden in preparation for the California State Fair on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. The fair will open on Friday, July 8, 2016. ehiller@sacbee.com

There will be fewer police officers working for the California State Fair this year, according to Cal Expo officials.

The Cal Expo Police Department will employ 113 part-time officers, 25 fewer than the 138 who worked for the fair in 2015, said Jennifer Castleberry, marketing director for the state agency.

The 18 percent reduction in part-time officers comes after Cal Expo officials were made aware of a California government code that mandates police officers retire by 65 years old.

“We did have to notify those officers who worked at Cal Expo, those that worked part time, that we had to let them go,” Castleberry said, adding that the agency found out about the government code in November.

Castleberry said she wanted to make clear that the reduction in part-time officers would not change the level of safety for guests planning to attend the State Fair. Though there is a shortage of officers, the number of people on patrol is expected to remain the same, she said. Roughly 70 officers patrol the fair at any given time, Castleberry added.

“There won’t be any change in terms of staffing at the fair,” she said. “The officers that are currently on our staff will just work more hours.”

In addition to the part-time officers that work for the Cal Expo Police Department, there are four full-time, permanent police officers and roughly 150 security guards that are hired for large events as needed, such as the California State Fair. Though the security guards don’t carry guns or make arrests, they “serve as the eyes and the ears of the fair” by patrolling gates, checking bags and reporting activity to police officers, Castleberry said.

“The State Fair is one of the safest places people can be, given the number of people that come through the fairground,” she said.

Most of the part-time officers who work for Cal Expo are officers employed by nearby local and state law enforcement agencies who are looking for additional part-time work, she added.

The State Fair opens on Friday. Last year, it attracted more than 579,000 paid visitors. Such big crowds have attracted criminals in the past.

In 2010, two men robbed a Cal Expo food vendor and made off with more than $200,000. Gene Irvin Felder was sentenced to six years in prison in August 2014 in connection to the robbery. Felder’s brother, Antonio Terrance Harvey, was given two years in prison but was released after sentencing because he had already served the time in jail while waiting for the trial and received credit for good behavior.

That same year, The Sacramento Bee reported that Cal Expo police shot and killed a 1,200 pound pregnant dairy cow that escaped and ran loose before the fairground gates opened. Police and veterinary staff agreed that the cow posed a danger to the fair employees.

More recently, Cal Expo police saw a rise of catalytic converter thefts at the 2014 California State Fair, which prompted increased surveillance of fairground parking lots, according to previous reporting by The Bee.

Castleberry said that Cal Expo is always looking to hire additional part-time officers to help patrol during large events.

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets

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