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Security plans to address smoking at race concerts

DEL MAR — In response to ongoing complaints about smoking, especially marijuana, during concerts after the summer horse races, a report on security protocol was presented at the March 11 meeting of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which oversees the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

General Manager Tim Fennell noted Pat Kerins, who has been the chief of security for the 22nd DAA for 15 years and director of security for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club for the past two, has 31 years of law enforcement experience, including 26 with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

Wolfgang Davidson, deputy chief of security, is a retired master sergeant who spent 25 years with the Marine Corps and the past 15 years in his current position.

“There is a lot of history, background and experience for safety, which will always be our No. 1 priority,” Fennell said.

The DMTC Uniform Security Department includes three lieutenants, eight sergeants and 77 security guards.

Staffing from the Sheriff’s Department includes one lieutenant, three sergeants and 39 deputies on opening day of the horse races.

One lieutenant, two sergeants and 22 deputies are assigned to large concerts, such as Ziggy Marley, during which many say there is an increase in marijuana smoking.

In addition, staffing during large concerts includes 78 Elite Security guards, 31 DMTC guards and four National Public Safety ATV patrols.

Off-duty police officers, including some from out of state, who specialize in bike patrol are also on hand.

“When they show up it looks like the front line of the (San Diego) Chargers,” Kerins said.

In the report, Kerins admits “certain concerts are more apt to have marijuana smoking” than others.

He added that he takes exception to “the impression that security does not care or is unaware of” the smoking policy at the fairgrounds, a statement made by many speakers during several monthly board meetings.

Fennell said Kerins met with members of the San Diego Police Department, who said the 22nd DAA uses procedures similar to theirs for crowd management and control during large events and concerts.

They won’t send an armed law enforcement officer into a large crowd for a smoker because it could create other issues, Fennell said, reiterating statements made previously by Encinitas sheriff’s Capt. Robert Haley.

That’s not to say smokers shouldn’t be confronted, “but you have to use good common sense in how you go about doing it,” Fennell added.

Kerins agreed. “It’s a very serious subject,” he said. “You have to use prudence and common sense and discretion in how you enforce” the no-smoking policy, he said.

There are additional challenges to policing the post-race concerts, compared to those held during the fair, Fennell and Kerins said.

The race concert venue has festival seating and the concerts are free, with attendance ranging from a few thousand to 16,000, depending on the band.

Fennell said smoking is permitted during the races. “You create an area where they can’t smoke right next door,” he said. “We need to review that a little bit. … That can create challenges on its own.”

Kerins said statistics show the fairgrounds is a safe venue. Total attendance during the race meets from 2010 to 2013 was about 2.7 million. The Sheriff’s Department recorded 203 arrests, most of which were misdemeanors such as alcohol-related violations, battery, theft and domestic violence.

According to the sheriff’s log, there were two contacts in 2012 for smoking violations.

Prior to the 2014 season, there are plans to study the race concert venue to establish an environment more conducive to managing the crowd. The review will factor in the four elements in every crowd situation: time, space, information and energy.

There will also be staff briefings, a re-evaluation of signage and a dedicated team of security to focus on the smoking issue.

More announcements will be made, including from the stage, reminding visitors of the no-smoking policy during the concerts.