For more than 100 years the Northwest Washington Fair has been the highlight of the summer for many families in Whatcom County.
Our pride in hosting one of the cleanest, safest fairs in the nation was shaken last year when, in the waning hours of the fair, we experienced a gang-related shooting. Three people were injured.
While we have always been diligent about creating a safe, healthy and friendly environment, this event caused us to look very closely at all we have been doing and all we can do to make certain everyone at the fair is kept safe. We are very fortunate to have an excellent Whatcom County Sheriff's Office and local police forces. With the help of local resident Matt Aamot, the Lynden Police and Whatcom County Sheriff's Office responded with great speed and efficiency in last year's shooting and quickly arrested the suspect without further incident.
Even more important, they have worked very closely with the fair to review our procedures and advise on improvements. Together, we have developed a plan that we believe will provide that additional measure of safety that our patrons expect from us, while not unduly interfering with the fun, friendly atmosphere.
In short, we have adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward gang members.
The Sheriff's Office estimates there are 300 to 700 gang members in our community operating in about 30 different gangs. That's an astonishing number. But a great many of these individuals are known to law enforcement officers. We will be positioning uniformed and non-uniformed officers around the fair grounds. If gang members are identified, they will be prevented from entering, or if they have entered, they will be escorted out or arrested.
We have also installed enhanced video surveillance, making certain that almost every part of the grounds can be monitored remotely 24 hours a day. This is in addition to our review of lighting to help make certain all areas of the fair are visible.
Safety and security has long been a priority. We had strong security officer and law enforcement presence in the past and now that presence will be increased.
Our safety procedures include rigorous inspections of carnival rides and an annual review of how animals are moved around the fairgrounds to minimize accidents with fairgoers. We also carefully evaluated the grounds for tripping hazards. Food-related illnesses are prevented by holding our food vendors to high standards, by keeping food service areas away from animals and by continually monitoring the barns for cleanliness.
When about a quarter-million people gather together for a week of fun at our fairgrounds, we are well aware that anything can happen. But we want everyone in the community to know that we're doing all we can to make certain that what happens at the fair contributes to a great time for everyone and especially the young ones. Because we're not just celebrating a wonderful 100-year history, we're preparing for the next 100 years of great family fun.
Jim Baron is the manager of the Northwest Washington Fair.