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Police gear up for 10-day Water Festival

Erin Morris, left, and Todd Stowe, volunteers with the Beaufort Water Festival, finish installing a metal fence to help protect the landscaping Wednesday afternoon at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.
Erin Morris, left, and Todd Stowe, volunteers with the Beaufort Water Festival, finish installing a metal fence to help protect the landscaping Wednesday afternoon at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. BOB SOFALY | The Beaufort Gazette

Although it is centered in downtown Beaufort, policing the 54rd annual Beaufort Water Festival will be a team effort involving law enforcement officers from other jurisdictions.

With thousands expected to converge on Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park beginning Friday, area forces were busy Wednesday brainstorming how best to police this year's event.

Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy said city police are relying on lessons from Water Festivals past to help keep festival-goers and participants safe.

"We've been doing this for years," Clancy said, "so we've taken our past experience and tried to schedule a certain number of officers on the nights we know to expect the biggest crowds."

Clancy said police presence downtown will be a big part of the department's strategy to deter crime during the 10-day festival.

"Historically, the vast majority of the arrests we make during Water Festival are alcohol-related," Clancy said. "As law enforcement, all we can do is be visible so people think when they enter the event and try to be as responsible with their drinking as possible."

City ordinance requires organizers of public events on city-owned property with an expected attendance of more than 200 people -- such as the Water Festival -- to contract with city police to provide event security.

Organizers won't know the size of their bill until after the event but say the peace of mind is worth every cent.

"After the event is over, they'll go back and calculate all of the manpower they use, which is done on an hourly basis, and let us know," said Sheri Little, the Water Festival's program coordinator. "Working with the police department has been great. We go over everything early and try to gauge which events will require us to have more officers or less officers, and if we have a slow night where the crowd isn't as big, we'll send them a few of them home if necessary."

Little didn't know how much the festival has paid for police protection in previous years. Information from the city was unavailable Wednesday.

Little said the festival's Saturday night concert and talent show historically require the most officers.

Clancy's officers will be supplemented during the festival by Beaufort County sheriff's deputies, S.C. Law Enforcement Division agents, Dorchester County sheriff's deputies and S.C. Department of Natural Resources law enforcement officers, who will patrol area waterways, Clancy said.

SLED agents will enforce state alcohol laws -- particularly making sure that downtown bars and festival vendors aren't serving alcohol to minors, he said.

State law allows a law enforcement agency to give agencies the authority to perform certain public safety functions, including enforcing state laws, in their jurisdiction for a certain period of time.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said the annual arrival of the Water Festival has always fostered a team ethic among local and regional law enforcement agencies.

"We're always available to assist the city during the Water Festival or any time," Tanner said. "It really is just one big team effort during this event. Every department has some manpower, so we pool all of our resources and deploy them as needed to provide a safe environment for everyone."

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