BR fair officials increase security after 2013 shooting

After last year’s fatal shooting at the Greater Baton Rouge State Fair, organizers vowed to improve security to keep fairgoers safe.

Organizers decided on a two-pronged approach after studying security measures at other fairs and discussing the potential changes among the organization’s board of directors: check every fairgoer with a metal-detecting wand and change the closing hours on the weekend from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“Based on our investigation into the different options and also talking with other fairs as to what they are doing, I’m comfortable and confident that we are taking the necessary steps,” said Cliff Barton, fair chairman.

Barton said everyone entering the fair will be checked with a wand and signs will be posted about the security changes.

Fair officials also plan to hire two to three additional security officers to patrol the fairgrounds during peak attendance hours as well as bring in additional East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies during those times, especially if someone is caught bringing a weapon into the park.

The fair has a “no gun policy,” Barton said, and although fair officials check all bags, purses and backpacks, they previously did not check every person who entered the fairgrounds.

The changes were necessitated after Darrius Scott, 20, was gunned down on the fairgrounds about 11:30 p.m. Nov. 3. Fair officials had closed the gates about 15 minutes before the shooting, but thousands of people were still milling about when the shots rang out.

Keithdrick Lamond Pier, 18, 3427 Aletha Drive, Baton Rouge, has been indicted on a second-degree murder charge in Scott’s death.

Scott was shot near a concession stand in the crowded midway and a sheriff’s deputy grabbed Pier near a merry-go-round after Scott was shot. Deputies told fair organizers that Pier was running toward a side exit.

“This was an isolated incident,” Barton said of the shooting.

The change in the closing time, Barton said, should keep fewer people in the fairgrounds past 11 p.m., lowering the probability of another shooting. People already admitted to the fair will be allowed to stay until about 11 p.m., but newcomers will not be allowed into the fair past 10 p.m.

Barton said other fairs have changed their hours in recent years, closing earlier, but Baton Rouge officials never considered doing the same until the shooting.

One option that was on the table, but was eschewed because of cost, space and time, was use of walk-through metal detectors, Barton said.

The large machines take up a lot of space and lengthen the time people spend in line to get into the fairgrounds, Barton said. The cost of renting the machines also eclipsed the cost of the wands, which factored into the decision.

Metal-detecting wands cost about $100 to $200 each, while the cost of full-body scanners can be more than $4,000.

Chris Giordano, director of the State Fair of Louisiana in Shreveport, which draws hundreds of thousands of people annually to the north Louisiana city, was one of the officials Barton consulted.

Giordano said Shreveport fair officials began using security wands and upgraded other security features after the fatal shooting of a teenager in 2004. During a fight, a gunman opened fire amid a crowd of people outside the fair gates, killing an 18-year-old leaving the fair.

Giordano said there have been no incidents involving weapons since the new measures were implemented.

“It’s worked good,” Giordano said. “We’ve fortunately, knock on wood, have not had those security problems in many years.”

In Shreveport, the fair closes at 10 p.m. every day except Friday and Saturday, and Giordano said it’s a hard close in which they shut down the fair and turn off the lights, unlike how the Baton Rouge fair is closed.

He said the decision to close early was also a financial one because most of the revenue generated at the fair comes during the day, not late at night.

“In my opinion, the benefit of staying open late into the night, the risk outweighs the rewards,” Giordano said.

Follow Ryan Broussard on Twitter, @ryanmbroussard.