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State Fair gets first metal detectors

The Arkansas State Fair has increased security for its 11-day run next month in response to a surge of violent crime in Little Rock.

Ralph Shoptaw, the event's president and general manager, said the fair has purchased walk-through metal detectors for the first time in its 78-year history to keep weapons off the grounds. Weapons of any kind, including concealed carry firearms, have long been banned from the fairgrounds.

Private security guards used hand-held metal detectors, also known as wands, to search for weapons in the past.

"With the rise in homicides, we just felt like it was something that we needed to be proactive on and take a little bit of extra precaution," Shoptaw said. "Because we just don't want anything ever to happen. A fairground is a place to have fun and enjoy, and we don't want anything to happen to make people feel unsafe."

The fair purchased four walk-through metal detectors for about $1,000 total through a federal surplus equipment program. Two additional metal detectors will be rented for the 11-day fair at a total cost of $500.

Shoptaw said the fair, which begins Oct. 12, has installed additional lighting in parking lots surrounding the fairgrounds, as well. And the roughly 50 private security guards hired to work the event this year will conduct "roving patrols" in those areas.

The guards will work alongside Little Rock police, Arkansas State Police and the Pulaski County sheriff's office, agencies that patrol the fair each year.

"With the crime that we've had this year, we just think we need to step it up a little," Shoptaw said.

Little Rock police had recorded 2,352 violent crimes -- homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults -- as of Sept. 4. That's 18 percent more than the department logged through the same date last year.

The number of homicides this year, 45, is three more than were recorded in all of 2016.

The city's struggle with violent crime gained international attention after a mass shooting at a downtown nightclub in July. Twenty-eight people were injured in the shooting, which occurred blocks from some of the city's top tourist destinations and cultural landmarks.

State, local and federal authorities formed a multiagency task force to address the increase in crime. Little Rock police have loosened vehicular chase rules, extended patrol hours in high-crime areas and enlisted the Arkansas State Police to help patrol certain roadways.

One of those roadways is West Roosevelt Road, the main artery to the fairgrounds.

State police spokesman Bill Sadler said the agency plans to continue those patrols through the fair's run. He said there will also be as many as a dozen state police troopers patrolling on foot inside the fairgrounds.

The Pulaski County sheriff's office reported that it will have between 15 and 20 deputies patrolling the fair.

Little Rock police spokesman officer Steve Moore said that 92 officers, along with at least one of its mobile surveillance towers, will be assigned to the fair.

"They're just looking for anything suspicious ... and people getting unruly," he said. "Of course, we'll have [officers] inside the fair, on the main strip there through the middle of the fair. We usually have some outside the fence during the evening hours, in the neighborhoods, patrolling around there. And of course we'll have traffic control."

Moore, a 34-year veteran of the department, said most crime at the fair is minor, such as petty theft or public intoxication. Just one person was arrested at the fair last year. That was a man who tried to buy funnel cake with a counterfeit $100 bill.

Violent crime is rare inside the gates. Shoptaw said the walk-through metal detectors will help keep it that way.

He said the metal detectors have another benefit: faster entry lines for the more than 450,000 people expected to attend the fair.

"I really think it'll speed things up," Shoptaw said. "It's a little faster to walk through than it is to be wanded."

NW News on 09/12/2017

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