Expect tighter security at big Vineyard summer events

Police departments in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury plan extra security at large public events this summer, in light of the bomb attacks on the Boston Marathon in April. Plans are evolving, but visitors to events like the August fireworks display in Oak Bluffs could see extra police presence, bag and cooler searches, K-9 units trained in explosive detection, and enforcement of security perimeters.

In Edgartown, July 4 parade watchers will see tighter parking restrictions, earlier street closures, and plenty of extra police officers.

Police are concerned that some may view extra security measures as an unnecessary intrusion into carefree summer fun on Martha’s Vineyard, but they are also wary that failure to increase their efforts could leave summer events vulnerable to the kind of small-scale attack that left the nation reeling after the Boston Marathon.

“We’re going to make it as user-friendly as we can,” Oak Bluffs Lt. Tim Williamson said. “But people are not going to be able to come and go like they used to. We don’t want to turn people off, to get upset and think we’re doing it because we don’t care. If we didn’t do anything, and something bad happened… We’re not going to let that happen.”

Edgartown public safety officials will add new security measures for the town’s busiest day, the annual July 4 parade and fireworks display.

“In today’s day and age,” Edgartown Police Chief Tony Bettencourt said, “for these large events, there’s no choice. There’s no question it’s not going to be as easy to get to the parade this year. I think people understand, with all the tragic events, people understand why we do it and why we have to do it.”

Police say in addition to visible signs of tighter security, there will be many additional security measures that visitors will not see, measures police will keep confidential in order to avoid compromising security plans.

Parade Plan

Edgartown public safety officials meet weekly to plan new security procedures for the 4th of July. Chief Bettencourt’s first step was to reach out to other Island police departments for help.

“We’re working together on this,” he said. “For the 4th, we’re going to have officers from every department on the Island, including the sheriff’s department, working for us.” He said the officers will be paid by their own departments. Edgartown officers will patrol in other towns for large public events later in the summer.

For the parade, Edgartown police plan to shut the parade route to all traffic at 3 pm this year, considerably earlier than previous years, so they can secure the area. The usual parade route parking ban will expand to one block off the parade route. Vehicles parked within the restricted streets will be towed immediately, and police will also immediately remove any unattended bags or coolers.

Main Street will reopen after the parade, but North Water Street and streets adjacent to it will remain closed to traffic until the conclusion of the fireworks.

Fireworks security

The annual fireworks display in Oak Bluffs draws about 15,000 people to Ocean Park each year. This year’s event is scheduled for August 16. Over the years, police have developed a comprehensive plan to deal with crowds and traffic, but their focus will shift a bit to security this year.

“We’ve got it pretty well down, with traffic and pedestrians,” Lt. Williamson said. “It has run very smoothly for years, but with this whole other dynamic of having a secure area, it’s going to be a little different with logistics.”

Oak Bluffs police are considering a secure perimeter around Ocean Park for this year’s event, with a security fence that allows limited entrance and exit. They may use a system where visitors without bags or coolers can go into and out of the park freely, but those with bags or coolers will be subject to brief searches.

Police also plan to use several K-9 units, with dogs trained to detect explosives.

“It’s a little intrusive and it’s going to be a little different,” Lt. Williamson said. “I think people are going to welcome it.”

In the past, police have used wide discretion in enforcing open container laws at the fireworks. Though Lt. Williamson said it is not their intent to confiscate alcohol from people who bring picnics to the fireworks display, they are still working through the logistics of searching bags and coolers.

They are also wrestling with how to approach smaller events, including summer street fairs, the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, and Illumination Night.

Street Fair

Tisbury police have begun preliminary planning for the annual Tisbury Street Fair

“That’s on our mind,” Chief Dan Hanavan said. “We’re going to try to have a few other people on the street, and some other things I can’t talk about.”

This year’s street fair is scheduled for July 8.