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Mississippi State Fair Responds to Rising Community Violence With Strict Curfew & Massive Police Presence

North American Midway Entertainment Boasts Near Record Numbers

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With rising crime and gun violence widespread throughout the U.S.,  affecting cities, suburbs and rural areas, fair managers have been prioritizing safety and security both pre-and-post pandemic. Increased measures from more personnel to wanding, scanning and searches have become common place at theme parks, stadiums and arenas. 

The safety of event guests requires consistent vigilance and keeping up to date with best practices.   Fairs are also in an even more potentially volatile position due to their stature as a mecca of wholesome family entertainment, community activities and Americana. Violent incidents at fairs can tar the fair, its board, affiliated organizations and the industry as whole. Fairs are often the largest outdoor event of any state in any given year, but if they're not safe, especially for the core customer; families, then the very purpose of the fair is compromised.

But violence takes many forms, and while fairs can do a passable job preventing firearms and other weapons from being brought to the fairground, where there are groups of teenagers fights, scuffles and melees are not uncommon, and many fairs have increased their security personnel – typically local enforcement – as a visible preventative measure dissuading teenagers from giving into their unruly impulses.  The downside, of course, is that too many police can intimidate and antagonize fairgoers.



 

America's Deadliest City 

The Mississippi State Fair took one of the most restrictive and controversial decisions regarding teenage fairgoers last year that addressed the teen violent problem afflicting this community. The organization implemented one of the most restrictive teen-curfews in the industry, banning all teens unaccompanied by adults from the fairgrounds after 9pm.

Jackson Mississippi, home of the Mississippi State Fair, had 128 homicides in 2020, 155 homicides in 2021 – which won it the moniker “America's Deadliest City” by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, and according to local reporting, in 2022 recorded at least 130 homicides, although an official count of Jackson's homicides has not been released for 2022.

Events could not avoid being scenes of this community's mounting crime problem. In April of 2022, nary six months before the Mississippi State Fair, one fatality and five serious injuries resulted from a drive by shooting at the  Mississippi Mudbug Festival, also held at the State Fairgrounds.

Days before the fair,  Andy Gipson, Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, announced the new curfew policy: “Beginning at 9:00 p.m., any guest under the age of eighteen (18) seeking admission to the Fairgrounds must be accompanied by a legal adult (21 or older). Any guest may be asked to show official proof of age to be admitted after 9:00 p.m. When entering the midway, all guests will proceed through one of the seven entry security points utilizing a metal detector, and/or be subject to magnetic wanding.

While many fairs are preoccupied with promoting the fair through food contests and other promotional activities, Gipson held high-profile press conferences by representatives of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, Mississippi State Capitol Police, Hinds County Sheriff Department, and Jackson Police Department.  “I want to thank our local law enforcement agencies…State Troopers will be on site, and the Mississippi Highway Patrol's Mounted Unit, for the first time, will deploy alongside the Hinds County Mounted Patrol. Also, the State Fire Marshal's Office will have highly trained K-9 units on site. Multiple agencies including the State Capitol Police, Department of Homeland Security, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, and Mississippi Agricultural and Livestock Theft Bureau will also be assisting with security and logistics.” 




 

Balancing Safety & Revenue 


“Safety is a priority at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds,” said Gipson when announcing the new measures. “Our number one goal is to keep people safe as they enjoy a unique, family-friendly Mississippi State Fair experience.”

In a post-fair interview with WLBT, a local television station, he was more specific. “We were aiming for 600,000 we had 519,000 people and we will take that… At first our attendance was a little lower than normal. I think people were waiting to see how this new program would work, but toward the end, we had huge crowds Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the last three days of the fair.”

Michael Lasseter. Director of the Mississippi State Fair commented  it was a “Great state fair. The best weather we've had in a long time. Attendance was only slightly off due to the newly enacted Youth Policy.”

In 2022, “We spent more on security which includes lighting, cameras, fencing, and of course, personnel,” said Lasseter – those attending appreciated the safer environs. “Everyone was up tempo due to the new security measures,” he said. 

“Word quickly spread regarding the safety of our state fair. Numbers were slightly down because of the new security measures. I will say, we had more families later in the evening than we've had in a long time.”



They had fair near-record attendance on the weekends, said Lasseter and near-sellouts by Scotty McCreery and Midnight Star. The North American Midway Entertainment (NAME) midway featured 61 rides, about the same as in 2021. “Overall, Midway revenue was about the same,” he said. “We lost in some places due to the lack of underage kids, but gained due to more families.”

NAME had another great year working with the Mississippi State Fair,” said Lynda Franc, Corporate Marketing Director, NAME. “They did implement some new security measures this year, and we were happy to work with them to make the transition as seamless as possible on our end. Safety is always our number one priority, and we're aware that this is on the rides and throughout the fairgrounds. It was really great to see more families on the midway and we look forward to 2023!”

The fair's more than 80-food vendors, featured a new addition to the fair cuisine menu. “Kandymellons. It's candy flavored, fresh watermelons,” he said. But the biggest seller is a Mississippi State Fairgoer staple – “Corn. Always corn. They ran out the last night.” 

He added, “There was an increase in our cost of security, but you can't really put a price on safety. The youth policy was very effective and would recommend it to other fairs.”
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