SACRAMENTO — The opening weekend of the California State Fair marked the third straight year that a melee took place. The only difference from the two previous campaign is that there were no arrests.

Tracey Jacobs, a deputy for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s
Department, greets visitors at the California State Fair on July 14,
2019. The State Fair police has instituted a program to have the
officers visibly interact with the fairgoers for the 166th edition
campaign of the annual event.
(OBSERVER photo by Antonio R. Harvey)

The California Exposition and State Fair Police did disperse a mammoth crowd with pepper spray at the main gate after closing. Representative from the State Fair said in a written statement that the fight was over in about “30 seconds.”

No injuries were reported and that’s about how the State Fair would like to conduct business until the annual event ends on July 28, providing that fairgoers just keep in mind that policing will still be done at the highest level.

Alson, the days of kicking large groups fairgoers off the grounds of California Exposition when they are in the vicinity of a physical fight during the State Fair are over well, the State Fair Police has communicated to the media.

The State Fair police is taking a new approach in handling the public and the Black community. Specifically, the Black youth should take notice of these measures, said Chief of Cal Expo Police Department the Joseph “Joe” Robillard.

“The past practices were to literally to corral a group of people who looked like they were causing trouble and on occasion they were people of color, teeagers of color,” Chief Robillard told CBM. “They were ejected en masse at the front gate. That will not happen while I’m here.”

Robillard, who has been on the grounds of Cal Expo for the past 12 years, said removal of disruptive characters or people of any background involved in fights will be “individual-behavior based,” he said.

If there are any violations of Cal Expo and State Fair’s “Code of Conduct” – such as using profanity, running, or challenging others to fight – is a precursor for removal, Chief Robillard emphasized. It will not be tolerated.

Robillard has some examples of how such events take place at the State Fair. Obtained by legal search warrants, he revealed how activity on Facebook led to the incident where a Black girl at the fair was attacked a couple of years ago.

It triggered several fights. The skirmish did not start on the fairgrounds, the “main loop” of the front entrance, Robillard said. The perceived violence, in fact, started on a social media platform.

“For two or three weeks, prior to that night, they were all messaging each other,” Robillard said of the perpetrators. “They came there, to the State Fair, for the purpose of getting into a fight. They were not there for the fun and excitement. They came there with intentions to fight. Unfortunately, that’s when we police. And we have to police. Those people we need to remove from the fairground.”

Robillard has instituted a mission statement for the Cal Expo Police Department to provide “safety and security” for visitors, employees, and staff that he says support order and preserve peace.

The State Fair’s chief of police presented his position to a panel of the Cultural Advisory Committee to go over the new mission statement, new approaches of police officers, and invited them to walkalongs during the evenings.

“First, it started with establishing a mission statement and it’s placed on our police squadron wall. It is safety and security, not necessarily enforcement,” Robillard said. “I’m trying to send a new message, a new tone to all the officers and the staff. It’s based on safety and security. Although, at times, enforcement is a necessary component but not the emphasis any longer.”

Betty Williams, the President of the Sacramento Branch of  the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP, told CBM that she is pleased with the efforts of Robillard.

The cops kicking out a large group of people because they were in an area where fights start worried Williams. She also wanted the standards to represent all people who violate the State Fair’s misconduct policies.

Manifesting “cultural sensitivity” must be implemented by the State Fair police, Williams stated.

“Well, I do think it’s a good thing. You can’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater,” she said. “But it should be across the board. Whoever is acting up at the State Fair, whether White, Black and everything in between, those perpetrators should leave unless they are breaking the law. There’s a difference. There has to be some cultural sensitivity. It can’t just be based off some people standing around.”

Cal Expo is the only fairgrounds in the nation with full-time, year-around law enforcement agents. They security-detail individuals. The Cal Expo Police Department operates under the exact authority as all departments in the state of California.

Cal Expo Police Department is staffed with peace officers and security guards. The officers on Cal Expo fairgrounds possess powers as identified in section 830.2 (i) of the California Penal Code.

“Technically, I’m the acting chief. They have asked me to stay permanent but I’m trying to retire,” Robillard said. “The general manager has been happy with the changes in the police department. But yes, I am the chief of police.”

Robillard has more than four decades of law enforcement experience, 12 years with Yuba City PD, where the cops were kind enough to help unlock a motorist’s locked automobile, jumpstart a car battery or help get a cat out of a tree. Smaller police force, had to be connected to community.

His impressive track record also includes 20 years with the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, working special community events and public venues up and down the state.

Community policing. He has hired about a dozen new officers of various backgrounds, including male and female persons of color and lifestyles, particularly LGBTQ communities. More diverse. There currently 96 officers on the fairgrounds, which is down from 156, Robillard said.

Under the circumstances, he said enthusiasm and confidence is high in the department. Arrests and ejections during the 165th State Fair were down in 2018 and there is hope that it continues to stay that way in 2019.

In 2018, there were 13 total arrests at the California State Fair, that’s down from 45 total arrests in 2017, and down from 69 in 2016.

Robillard and his staff contributes to the decline in arrests to new community policing practices and increased public education surrounding state fair activities and the code of conduct.

Working under stress has not been a concern among the State Fair police force, Robillard said.

“I think the morale among the officers is good and I’m going to use it to my advantage,” he said.

With other law enforcement agencies on the fairgrounds, an attempt to be more “engaging” with visitors are in full effect at the State Fair.

The officers, security, and members of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department were seen during the opening weekend at the front entrance on motorcycles and mounted horses taking selfies with fairgoers and just having light conversations.

Tracey Jacobs, a deputy for the Sacramento County Sheriff, who has been working the State Fair beat for years, said there is “a certain group,” specifically the Black youth, that are barely responding to the cops’ friendly advances.

“We (law enforcement agents) are reaching out to them,” Deputy Jacobs told CBM. “Hopefully, they will come around.”

By Antonio R. Harvey