Police call Preakness infield scene tame

May 21, 2011|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Thousands of people may be drinking in the Preakness infield, but police describe the scene as tame.

"The goal is to have the police as out of sight as possible and as uninvolved in craziness as possible," said Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld as he walked through the infield. "We just want everybody to have a good time. It's we're not called into action, its been a great day."

Bealefeld, as much of a booster of the city as he is its 3,000-member police department, said the changes the Jockey Club has made in recent years have improved the quality of the event.

 "It just upped the environment," he said. He remembers working the event as a patrolman and a sergeant, recalls it was "just nuts."

 After walking through the infield, Bealefeld noted the well-behaved crowd. "We just walked through there and what did you see? A bunch of nothing."

 He receives updates every 30 minutes. By 3 p.m., the only action was five people ejected for fighting and no arrests.

 So what does a police commissioner do at the city's biggest event of the year on a beautiful day with attendees largely behaving themselves? He ducked into the Under Armour corporate tent to say hello to CEO Kevin Plank before one of his horses was to race, then watched from a few feet away as the horses whooshed by.

 He also ate lunch from a roof, where SWAT officers and firefighters look over the crowd with binoculars and watch monitors that check for chemical substances in the air. Earlier, he went into the backstage area during a performance by the band Train. He said his wife and children are fans of the bands performing today, and were dressed up for the race.

 "They love it," he said. "It's the event of the year."

Officials at the city's emergency management command center estimate there are 14,500 people in the infield at the Preakness today. Only nine people have been transported to local hospitals, for dehydration or abrasions, according to Bob Maloney, director of the Mayor's Office of Emergency management.

 "It's really calmed down out here," he said. In past years, he said, "We'd have 20 people at the hospital by now."

 From the command center, a tent outside the stadium, officials are monitoring cameras and talking over radios with personnel inside. At one point, a call comes over that there's a big fight near a Budweiser tent. But moments later it's been dispersed without incident. "It's been very smooth," Maloney said. "We're all from here, and we want everyone to have a good time. It's exciting for us to be able to help."

 Earlier in the day, organizers from the upcoming Grand Prix event stopped by to get a look at what goes into emergency planning for a major event. "This is good practice for an event like that," Maloney said.

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