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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2007
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Fair not just fun and games
Police calls rise when event in town; patrols to increase at fairgrounds

By Catherine Godbey
cgodbey@decaturdaily.com 340-2441

Flashing lights continuously circle as a ride on the Ferris wheel entices Tennessee Valley natives and visitors to the Morgan County Fair.

The fair is not all fun and games, however, for when the Ferris wheel starts spinning, calls to the Decatur Police Department increase.

43 percent increase

According to police records, the number of service calls rose by 43 percent during the fair last year. Lt. Frank DeButy compared the calls made during the fair to the calls made in a two-week time period before the fair.

"Calls for service can be anything, but that's a dramatic increase," said DeButy, a police spokesman. "Those calls can be anything. There will be a lot of calls about the noise. There always are."

The comparison analyzed the neighborhood surrounding the fair, part of police Zone 3. Zone 3 encompasses the area east of Danville Road Southwest, west of the railroad, south of Eighth Street Southwest and north of Bowles Bridge Road.

The combination of energetic activities and a dense population of people in one area fueled the elevation of calls from 901 before the fair to 1,289 during the fair last year. DeButy said higher service calls don't necessarily mean increased crime, but he said the Police Department does investigate more cases.

"The week of the fair there tends to be an increase in certain incidences like the number of assaults, runaways and drug-related crimes," DeButy explained.

To counteract the fair's chaotic environment, Decatur police will increase its patrol of the fairgrounds. Uniformed officers and plain-clothes officers, members of the Organized Crime Unit, will patrol the fairgrounds, searching for illegal activity.

Police heighten the fair's security, but with an overall attendance between 25,000 and 30,000, maintaining a controlled environment poses a challenge.

"The fair is a magnet for people, and anytime you get a large population of people, opportunity for issues go up," DeButy said.

To cope with the attendance, the Tennessee Valley Exposition adds supplemental security patrols from the Morgan County Sheriff's Department and the Alabama State Defense Force.

Deputy sheriffs will patrol the midway and members of the state defense force will be available to handle additional security problems, said Rebecca Gressman, co-chair of the exposition.

The fair also offers a program for adults that ensures the safety of their children.

"Parents can fill out their names and cell numbers on the back of bracelets and put the bracelets on their children," Gressman said. "This allows us to contact the parent if a child becomes lost."

While local police and fair officials prepare their security measures, neighborhood residents await the end of the fair.

"It (the noise) is a nuisance, but it doesn't bother us because we know in a week it's going to end," resident Martin Nowak said. "Besides the noise, there is just trash and litter that is left behind."

Ann Cook, another resident, also notes the noise issue, but also identifies the positive side of living near the fairgrounds.

"The fair only lasts for a couple of days, and last year we got to sit out in the yard and see the Ferris wheel," Cook said.

Neither Nowak nor Cook identified criminal activity occurring in their neighborhood. Their only issue was the noise.

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