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Keeping everything Fair: local law enforcement

Lancaster Police Chief John Gardiner meets and greats with Shayne Reisch and son Ivan while walking the beat at the Lancaster Fair. Jonathan Benton. (click for larger version)
September 08, 2010
LANCASTER — Many that visit the Lancaster fair are blissfully unaware of all the hard work and time that the local police put into making it an enjoyable day, so this reporter decided to find out.

Many of the officers working the fair face a grueling six day schedule putting in anywhere from 12 to 17 hours a day. For the longer days of the fair there are up to 16 members of the local law enforcement present including the Northumberland, Lancaster, Whitefield and Sheriff's departments.

Seven officers are spread out either manning the road or standing guard at the entry points, some standing there the entire day. The officers on traffic duty ferry pedestrians back and forth across the road. The ones at the entry gates make sure no one tries to steal the box from the ticket handlers and deal with any disagreements. There were a number of people that tried to bring dogs in the midway and a few that were disgruntled about the admission price, but both storms were quelled by a few words from the badge.

At the end of the day the policeman stationed with each ticket person serves as an escort for the money made that day.

The rest of the officers walk the fairgrounds keeping an eye out and engaging in the "meet and greet" with the public. In fact, while this reporter shadowed a few of the men in blue, several people gave out greetings and conversation.

"I keep planning on wearing a pedometer to see how much I actually walk," said Lancaster Patrolman Tim Charbonneau who constantly circled the fairgrounds.

During the day problems at the fair remain limited to children with lost parents or skinned knees that know they can trust an officer. Whitefield police Chief Bill Colborn even spent time helping an old lady find her car.

At night however, what Lancaster Police Chief John Gardiner referred to as the "testosterone crowd" begins to surface and the beer tent becomes a hot spot of activity. Of all the crimes that occur at the fair criminal trespass and simple assault rank are the most common, but "we try to nip that in the bud before it happens," said Chief Gardiner. Trespassing charges are mostly due to the fact that the fair is private property and when asked to leave and escorted out — as in the case of one woman that relieved herself in the beer tent — they are not allowed back in.

"We try to stop things before before they happen," said Chief Colborn, "over the past few years we let the public know we don't tolerate that kind of behavior."

One unexpected event this year that the police responded to was an accident that occurred in the central arena during the truck pull. It was during the slight rain showers on Sunday that the rear axle broke off one of the sleds and catapulted the sled's operator, Mark Fuller of Richmond Vermont, who wasn't strapped in. Mr. Richmond was thrown about 15 feet into the air. He was conscious when he was taken away to Week's Medical Center. Except for those that had paid for the arena tickets to catch the show, the event was unknown to the rest of the fair as the incident was handled discretely.

Three officers reguarly stood alert at the center arena where spectators pay to watch such attractions as music bands or truck pulls. They calmly keep anyone from sneaking in or smoking in the stands in case hot ashes set the old wooden benches ablaze.

Also in the evening officers had to move vehicles that blocked exits or other cars from leaving and did so by picking them up. "This one guy said 'only in New Hampshire will you see this'," said Chief Colborn after pulling back his sleeve to reveal a bruise on his arm from engaging in the lifting with four other officers.

The biggest impediment that the police face in such a lively atmosphere is the noise. Especially around the rides the sound on the walkie-talkie becomes almost incoherent and requires placement to one's ear while cupping the hand.

At the start of the fair week the officers peruse a list of names of people that have a warrant out for their arrest. The fair is apparently so tempting to visit that it brings those avoiding the law out of the wood work. About eight such arrests took place, one in particular was a two for one deal as two fair patrons had drawn attention when they started to argue with each other and both of them were on the list.

The police have their base of operations within a log cabin on the fair grounds that they basically call home for the duration. Friends and family made chili and lasagna to help feed them as well.

"Having a good time is what the fair is all about," said Chief Gardiner.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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