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Security stepped up during parade, fireworks

Becky Vargo • Aug 1, 2018 at 12:00 PM

An increase in crowds for Grand Haven’s Coast Guard Festival means an increase in the police force and constant changes in the ways officers keep track of all the people in town this week.

“It’s a full week on land and on sea, but it’s a good week,” said U.S. Coast Guard Station Grand Haven Chief Kirk McKay. “We look forward to it.”

McKay is keeping an extra 29-foot fast-response boat on hand and is expecting additional help from the Coast Guard MSST security force out of New York.

The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office marine patrol, Coast Guard Auxiliary and Michigan conservation officers add to the increased presence on the water, McKay said.

“Our mission stays the same,” he said of the Coast Guard. “It’s search and rescue, law enforcement, and education.”

As the crowds rise steadily all week, the big focus is on Saturday when more than 100,000 people are expected in town for the Grand Parade and the fireworks show in the evening.

Logistics for the Coast Guard are handled through Sector Field Office Grand Haven. The new SFO commander, Lt. Brian Howard, said most of this year’s planning was already in place; he just has to see it through.

“Planning for the festival is pretty much year-round,” Howard said.

The Monday following the festival is the first meeting to discuss how things went and to start planning for the next year.

Capt. Clint Holt of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety is in charge of coordinating the police force on land. He said things started to ramp up Tuesday with the opening of the downtown carnival.

While there is foot patrol in the downtown and waterfront areas all summer, five more officers were scheduled to join that effort today. As the crowds increase, so will the number of police, Holt said.

On Saturday, Grand Haven public safety officers will be joined by Michigan State Police, Ottawa County Sheriff’s deputies, Michigan Department of Natural Resources law enforcement (conservation officers staffing Grand Haven State Park), Grand Valley State University Police Academy and Coast Guard Investigative Service. There will also be bomb-sniffing dogs from the state police and the Coast Guard, Holt said.

Planning started many months ago, and that includes the installation of temporary cameras around the downtown, along the waterfront and at the state park.

“There are very few places in the downtown area you can get that you’re not in view of a camera,” Holt said. “In years past, we have made drug arrests and larceny arrests based on what we’ve seen on cameras.”

Police will monitor the cameras at the Department of Public Safety office and at the state police mobile command trailer located at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Harbor Drive.

“We also have individuals monitoring social media for potential threats,” Holt said. “There have been rumors of threats in the past, but when investigated (they) turned out to be nothing.”

DNR officers are also stepping up checks for alcohol. Between the cameras and the enhanced enforcement, the amount of disturbances with intoxicated people is decreasing, Holt said.

Police are also using strategically placed vehicles for traffic direction and to slow down a vehicle in case of an assault. Holt said they were using city public works trucks and Grand Haven school buses in that capacity.

To help coordinate the resources, the state police have brought in a mobile command vehicle from Lansing. This will work primarily as a dispatch center for downtown police operations on Saturday, Holt said.

Any 911 emergency calls going to Ottawa County Central Dispatch that originate from the area west of Third Street will be rerouted to the command center. That takes the festival activity load off Central Dispatch. Holt said his crew will also have a better idea of where to locate officers depending on the calls they receive.

An information booth will also be set up outside the command vehicle Saturday afternoon. GHDPS staff will be able to answer questions and refer problems to police, if necessary. Anyone who has lost a child, or lost or found an item, can report to the information booth on Saturday.

Any other day this week, people should keep their emergency calls going to 911 or report to the closest police officer, Holt said. 

An exception is if your car gets towed. If that is the case, the driver must go to the GHDPS office at 519 Washington Ave., which is five blocks up from the waterfront.

There will be several road closures during the parade and fireworks on Saturday, with 46 special traffic orders issued for city streets and parking lots. 

Another thing visitors should know is that cellular phone service is spotty downtown and along the waterfront.

Also, there is no open alcohol allowed in public spaces in the city, including the state park.

Holt said he expects 40 or more firefighters from seven area departments to be posted on Dewey Hill for Saturday night’s fireworks show.

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