NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — When the Patriotic Festival opens up for the first time in Norfolk next Friday, officers from the Newport News Police Department will be helping to keep the peace.
A spokesperson for the Norfolk Police Department confirmed Friday that NNPD will be sending 15 officers as well as two supervisors to help provide security for the event downtown on Memorial Day weekend. The festival is expected to draw more than 40,000 visitors for concerts, military demonstrations and displays.
Headliners are Morgan Wallen, Kane Brown and Jon Pardi. Wallen’s show Sunday sold out in minutes.
While Norfolk has hosted crowds of similar sizes in years prior, never before has the police force been so thin. As of last week, there were 239 sworn officer vacancies, more than a quarter of the department.
It’s one of the reasons Chief Steve Drew, of Newport News, said he answered the agency’s call for help.
“Interim Chief Goldsmith said he facing a little bit of challenges with staffing and so we will be helping,” Drew said, adding the request came several weeks ago.
Norfolk police cast a wide net seeking assistance, also asking Virginia Beach and Chesapeake police departments for help. Chesapeake declined, citing their own staffing shortages. As of Friday, Virginia Beach police were still accessing the request.
Drew, on the other hand, said his department is currently only down 12 officers.
He said he isn’t sure if his department will bill Norfolk yet, or if the assistance will be covered under mutual aid. Mutual aid agreements are made between the different municipalities to provide assistance during a crisis.
“The most important thing [is] to help them out. Make sure the region has a good event,” Drew said.
The Patriotic Festival made the high-profile move to downtown Norfolk following 18 years at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
During the announcement last October, Patriotic Festival President Ira Agricola cited the need to have an indoor venue to go to in case of poor weather. However, he also hinted that Virginia Beach’s bureaucratic process became discouraging.
Following several violent and deadly incidents in its downtown arts and entertainment district, the importance of pulling off a festival safely has become even greater for Norfolk.
It’s the first time it’s ever created a concert venue on Waterside Drive. Both Saturday and Sunday’s main shows are planned for the stage to be built near the intersection of Waterside Drive and Commercial Place.
“Expect heightened security,” Roger Stephenson, the festival’s security director, said. “I would suggest everyone travel light. We will search everyone coming into the ticketed area.”
Stephenson, a former Norfolk sheriff’s captain who now owns his own security consulting company, said aside from help of Newport News police, Norfolk police will be assisted by Virginia State Police, Norfolk Sheriff’s Deputies, the U.S. Coast Guard and two private security companies.
“If you come to this event. You will be monitored from many sources,” Stephenson said, mentioning that Norfolk’s new mobile surveillance cameras may be put to use.
While the event is scheduled for what is normally a public street, the same rules don’t apply. No firearms or weapons of any kind will be allowed in.
He said even those who don’t plan on attending the festival but are in the area should know they will be watched. Following the massacre at the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival in 2017, security at concerts often spans far beyond the venue.
“I can’t discuss all the inner workings of the security plans but trust you me, if you decide to open a window in one of these buildings, you will be noticed. Let’s put it that way,” Stephenson said. “This will be the safest place in the City of Norfolk that weekend.”
CORRECTION: An original version of this story incorrectly stated that Virginia Beach declined Norfolk’s request for help. WAVY-TV apologizes for the error.