published Friday, May 10th, 2013

Riverbend adds off-duty officers to security plan

Riverbend Festival security is being revamped this year.
Riverbend Festival security is being revamped this year.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
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Friends of the Festival changed its security plan for Riverbend on Thursday after learning there would not be enough private security officers to work the eight-day music festival.

Originally, Friends of the Festival opted to use private security according to a plan the Chattanooga Police Department would approve.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Chattanooga Police Department has had more than 100 officers work the Riverbend Festival on the riverfront with another 60 officers just outside the event.

However, this year was to be the first that event organizer Friends of the Festival would have to pick up the bill on security costs.

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said to help offset the new cost, he offered 60 officers to work the event for $115,000 and an additional 60 officers would work outside the gate.

Chip Baker, executive director for Friends of the Festival, turned down the offer, opting for private security.

On Thursday, Baker went through Mayor Andy Berke's office to ask to hire 30 off-duty police officers to work inside the venue.

"So today I asked Mayor Berke to arrange for approximately 30 off-duty Chattanooga police officers to supplement the security during each night of the event," Baker said in a news release." Mayor Berke recognized the public safety issue ... and immediately worked to ensure that Riverbend would be safe for our community."

Dodd said adding the officers would help.

"I think it will be a lot safer with the 30 officers assisting with security plans inside. I had hoped they would accept the original plan with 60 but they decided not to," Dodd said.

This year, Dodd said police officers -- including members of specialty units -- will be working nearby just outside the event to respond as needed.

In interviews earlier this week, Friends of the Festival claimed police officers would be working the event even though police officers were told they would not be working.

"I apologize for the confusion this situation has caused as well as for the inconvenience to Chattanooga Police Department officers," Baker said. "I am grateful to Mayor Berke for working with us to provide a solution."

Baker said the cost for private security still is unknown.

"Since we will be paying for security this year, like any business, we wanted to explore all combinations and permutations of staffing structures," he said. "We are still working on the cost."

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at 423-757-6406 or bburger@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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