Chattanooga's Riverbend Festival to hire private security

Chattanooga's Riverbend Festival to hire private security

May 8th, 2013 by Beth Burger in Local Regional News

Riverbend Festival security is being revamped this year.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

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Chattanooga police officers will not be working security on the Riverbend Festival grounds this year, police Chief Bobby Dodd said Tuesday.

"They have private security," Dodd said.

Traditionally, more than 100 officers work the Tennessee riverfront site at the festival that features live music acts and activities.

About 30 Hamilton County sheriff's deputies work the event, as well.

Amy Morrow, spokeswoman for Friends of the Festival, said Tuesday that a mixture of Chattanooga police officers, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputies and private security officers would staff this year's event. Chattanooga police will continue to work the Bessie Smith Strut event along M.L. King Boulevard, Dodd said.

Normally, it costs the city $200,000 to staff the riverfront site with Chattanooga police officers, who often change their regular scheduled days off and sometimes take new assignments during the festival to cover all zones and shifts.

No one had an estimate for how much money the security change might save the city.

Lacie Stone, spokeswoman for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's office, said, "We met with Friends of the Festival and discussed various options to provide the right security for Riverbend while keeping in mind the impact on taxpayers."

"Friends of the Festival proposed the use of private security inside the festival," Stone said, adding that this is not the first year the organization has been billed by the city for services.

Chattanooga Sgt. Austin Garrett, who handles special events for the police department, is helping coordinate security with Friends of the Festival.

"The bottom line is the police department will have to approve the security plan," Morrow said.

Dodd said police will work with Friends of the Festival "in any way needed" to coordinate their transition to private security.

"We will have officers in the immediate area to address any safety/security issues during Riverbend," he said.

In earlier years, the festival paid only off-duty city police officers to work security. Now, festival officials were told they would have to pay officers on duty who also were working the festival, Morrow said.

Dodd said a proposal was submitted that would have scaled back the number of officers working and billed Friends of the Festival $115,000. That proposal was turned down by Friends of the Festival, he said.

Private security officers do not have arrest powers, but they can detain people and call Chattanooga police to make reports and transport offenders to the jail. A month away from this year's event, Morrow said a private security firm has not been selected.

Morrow said the changes would not affect Friends of the Festival's liability insurance costs.

In 2012, Chattanooga police made 32 arrests, ejected 75 people from the event and handled 21 cases of underage drinking -- not including arrests made at the Bessie Smith Strut. In 2011, police made 55 arrests, ejected 32 people and handled 38 alcohol-related arrests.

This year's Riverbend Festival is scheduled for June 7-15.