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Cal Expo has new acting police chief one year after fights marred state fair

The California Exposition has appointed Joseph Robillard as its acting police chief, the state fair host announced Monday. Robillard will be tasked with overseeing security at the 165th fair in July, a year after at least eight fair attendees were arrested and more than 60 were thrown out.

Robillard, a former Yuba City police officer, Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control investigator and deputy director of security for the state lottery, has worked at Cal Expo since 2007, according to a news release. He replaces Robert Craft, who is retiring after working for the Cal Expo police department for 40 years.

"I’ve got some big shoes to fill," Robillard said. "We have a great team here, all the sergeants and lieutenants together, we've developed some game plans to make this a fun, safe place."

Last year, fair merriment was marred by several fights and confrontations with police officers, who were accused of racially profiling black teens. One incident resulted in a Sacramento Police Department helicopter being called, an officer breaking her leg and fair gates closing early.

“There was some disruptive behavior last year by some youths," Robillard acknowledged. "There were some fights – a few when you consider the thousands of visitors that attended the fair last year. The incidents were very few and far between, but they were noticeable."

Robillard said he does not believe police were racially profiling people in 2017.

"There was misinterpretation about loitering," he said. "When some people are running through the crowds and engaging in other types of disruptive behavior, yes, we ask them to leave, and sometimes they refuse to leave and we have to take the necessary steps."

This time around, he wants to enlist hallway monitors from local schools who are adept at communicating with young people.

“My initial concept is, if some juveniles or young adults are engaging in disruptive behavior, we're going to ask those community members to make the first contact," he said.

Robillard said Cal Expo police are also partnering for the first time with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department to provide security in the fairgrounds, and will work with the California Highway Patrol to help control traffic at busy streets nearby.

The state fair has a history of crime. The Bee's archives indicate 10 arrests, gunfire and fighting on opening day in 2008, a $100,000 heist in 2011 and a stabbing outside the front gate in 2003.

Cal Expo said it will take four to six months to recruit a new full-time police chief. The state fair will take place from July 13-29.

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