Police will be ready when nearly 50,000 people descend upon Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park beginning Friday for the Beaufort Water Festival, Police Chief Matt Clancy says.
In addition to the department's regular patrols, as many as 10 off-duty officers will be assigned to the 57th annual event, which begins Friday with an opening ceremony featuring a performance by the Parris Island Marine Band and a fireworks display over the Beaufort River at dusk.
Clancy said the numbers of officers assigned to the festival's nightly activities at Waterfront Park hinge on expected attendance. Events like Saturday night's concert, Sunday's Teen Dance and the Wednesday' talent show typically require the most police presence, he said.
"We work with (festival organizers) to reach a happy medium about the number of officers needed on any given night to make sure that everyone has a good time but does so safely," Clancy said. "On the big nights, like the concert on Saturday night and on teen night, we'll typically have about 10 officers down there. It's a long couple of weeks for our officers, between working their regular shifts and working the Water Festival."
Last year, officials devised a strategy to control crowds at the Teen Dance following an incident in 2010 in which three separate fights broke out and officers discharged pepper spray into a crowd of about 100 people.
"We had our (school resource officers) and the ones from the (Beaufort County Sheriff's Office) staff the event," Clancy said of last year's dance. "They know the kids, and the kids know them, so they feel comfortable coming up and telling them if something is brewing. That seemed to work really well last year. It was pretty calm."
Organizers of public events on city-owned property with an expected attendance of more than 200 people are required by ordinance to contract with police for security.
Clancy said festival organizers won't know the amount of their bill until after the event and could not say Wednesday how much the city has charged the event for security in the past.
Attempts Wednesday to reach a festival spokeswoman were unsuccessful.
Though police will be on alert during the 10-day festival, Clancy urged revelers to be mindful of their safety.
"Common sense is the rule of the day," Clancy said. "People should plan ahead, have a designated driver or plan to call a cab if they're going to be drinking, and make sure they lock their cars and don't leave valuables in plain sight."