Shanita Minor was arrested by the Cal Expo Police Department on Friday, July 14. Madison Tetraulp
Shanita Minor was arrested by the Cal Expo Police Department on Friday, July 14. Madison Tetraulp

Joyce Terhaar

Executive Editor and Senior Vice President

Joyce Terhaar

Are you safe from crime at the California State Fair? Here’s why we don’t know

By Joyce Terhaar

jterhaar@sacbee.com

July 27, 2017 02:00 PM

UPDATED July 27, 2017 06:53 PM

Sacramento police officials make their arrest logs publicly available online and send out a daily “activity log” about major crimes.

Opinion

At the California State Fair, when cops reporter Nashelly Chavez stopped by Cal Expo police headquarters to check arrest logs, she was advised to file a Public Records Act request. She had to do the same for basic information on the number of employees and crime statistics.

“If you were to go to San Francisco State’s Police Department or the Sacramento Police Department, you can find this out” immediately, said Chavez, an S.F. State alumna. At Cal Expo, “I had to PRA it. They just said they were going to take my request and forward it to their lawyer.”

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It’s looking like this year’s fair will be over before officials answer all questions tied to security and the opening night controversy over police response to fighting.

We should be disappointed about such secrecy from state law enforcement, even outraged. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Last year, the California State Fair saw its attendance drop 14 percent. Cal Expo doesn’t get state funding and relies on its ability to generate revenue. Violence at the fair is bad for ticket sales.

Yet we shouldn’t forgive officials who are hiding information from the public. To ensure a family-friendly reputation, fair officials need to behave in a way that builds public trust. That starts with immediate public access to basic information about police activity, a policy that is so standard that anyone can search California crime by jurisdiction through a company called Local Crime News.

If they have the power to arrest someone ... then you would think they would be subject to the same standards as other police departments.

Nashelly Chavez, Bee reporter, regarding public access to daily arrest logs

Safety, after all, is not a new issue for those of us deciding whether to check out the newest attractions, craft beer or bizarre junk food. It isn’t a new discussion for parents deciding whether to allow their teenagers to hit the midway rides with friends, either. A scroll through The Bee’s news archives is a quick reminder that huge fair crowds have often been paired with crime: 10 arrests, gunfire and fighting on opening day 2008; a brazen $100,000 heist in 2011; a stabbing outside the front gate in 2003.

More often, the crimes involve fighting and disorderly conduct. And to be fair, officials historically have been more transparent about police staffing, conduct and arrests.

Chavez asked to speak to police Chief Robert Craft and has yet to be given access. Why? He has been available to the media in past years. This year, administrative staff have been used as a shield, with Margaret Mohr, deputy general manager, handling most press requests.

Other law enforcement agencies have been more open. Reporter Darrell Smith interviewed a deputy chief from the Fulton-El Camino Park District and a sergeant spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department to learn about arrests and ejections opening night. (Their employees made arrests and operated a police helicopter observing crowds.)

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department allowed Smith to review arrest logs, as is its norm. From those Smith reported that two adults were arrested, their names and why. We learned of the juvenile arrest from the Park District.

3, 60, 1 Number of arrests, ejections and injured officers on opening night of California State Fair

Initial information from Mohr downplayed the trouble and was wrong. Instead, from those outside departments, we learned July 18 that three people were arrested, 60 were ejected and a Cal Expo police officer suffered a serious injury, breaking her leg escorting someone out of the fairgrounds. Smith told me that Mohr initially said Officer Laura Hom’s injury “wasn’t directly related” to the incidents, admitting it only after Smith verified the details elsewhere.

Why was Mohr so wrong several days after the fighting and arrests? If staff is going to speak for law enforcement, accuracy is just a starting point. And why, after taking a day to provide our requested initial arrest reports, did fair spokeswoman Anna McKowen tell Chavez this week that no more arrest logs can be released until Aug. 4?

Such responses leave the public with reasonable questions that remain unanswered.

Is the fair operating with fewer police officers on site this year? We’re told unofficially that it is but cannot get confirmation. Last year, fair officials revealed they had cut the force by 18 percent, to 113 part-time officers, four full-time officers and about 150 security guards who do not carry guns or make arrests. About 70 officers were expected to patrol the fair at any given time in 2016. Why won’t officials say this year how many are patrolling?

You can find some information on the Cal Expo website, though it does not indicate if it is updated and it doesn’t say what staffing is at any given time. It does say officers come from 33 law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

By Monday, this year’s fair will be over. The wiener dog races, cornhole championship, wine tastings and bacon-wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups will be gone.

Without answers, so too will public trust.

Teen Shanita Minor discusses State Fair arrest: 'I was just crying and screaming'

High school student Shanita Minor explains her arrest at the State Fair at Cal Expo in Sacramento on Friday evening.

Jose Luis Villegas The Sacramento Bee

Sydney Saniao discusses her State Fair arrest: 'I got booked for no reason'

Sydney Saniao, 18, of Federal Way, Wash., outside Sacramento County Main Jail in Sacramento after her release from custody on Tuesday, recounts the events that led to her arrest late Friday at the California State Fair. Prosecutors declined to file assault charges against the Washington woman Tuesday. Saniao, on vacation in Sacramento, said she and friends, all 17 and 18, were harassed and attacked by an older group of men and women in their 30s and that she was arrested after trying to defend her friends.

Darrell Smith The Sacramento Bee

Joyce Terhaar: 916-321-1004, @jterhaar