It’s almost summer in Haines and that means several big events are on the horizon. The Haines Borough Police Department is working on just how to keep the peace and maintain order at these annual occasions, which draw thousands into town. With the 24th-annual Great Alaska Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival just days away, the local police department is pondering a new tact: plainclothes officers at the event.
Haines Beer Fest, the Kluane-Chilkat Bike Relay, and the Southeast Alaska State Fair draw large crowds to this small community each year, and are undoubtedly a huge boon on the local economy. Acting Police Chief Josh Dryden says for the most part, they’re fun events that provoke few shenanigans. But, he says, every year there are a handful of incidents. Some years, extra police are brought in to help with crowd control. But this year, for the popular Beer Fest, the department might take a different approach when it comes to ensuring revelers and vendors have fun while abiding by the law.
“As soon as somebody sees an officer in uniform, if they’re conducting any kind of behavior that the officer might pay attention to, they’ll stop,” Dryden says. “But as soon as he walks away, they’ll just start again. So, I think having somebody a little more inconspicuous might help.”
Dryden says as far as he knows, this would be the first time the local police department is considering having an officer in plain clothes at the beer festival.
“He’s just watching, he’s just making sure everybody’s having a good time. He’s not there to trap anybody, he’s not there to be sneaky. He’s just there to watch. It’s a tactic that works during special events. Ones I’ve worked down south, there’s always numerous plainclothes.”
This weekend will draw nearly 2,000 beer enthusiasts over the two-day affair. Dryden says last year there fewer episodes compared to 2014, which was a little “rowdier.” He says for the most part Beer Fest goers are “happy drunks.”
“I expect the vendors and the bartenders to maintain their integrity to do their job and don’t over-serve somebody to excess.”
Jessica Edwards has worked for the Southeast Alaska State Fair since 2010. She’s been the director for a few years now, and says the brewers and servers that come for the brew festival each year are professional and conscientious. She’s says her organization works closely with several borough departments to make sure the event runs smoothly and safely.
“We’ve has a very cooperative relationship with the police department,” Edwards says. “We’ve always encouraged them to please be a part of the festival as much as they can. We’re certainly not asking them to do security for us, we have our own mechanisms for that, but we have always really appreciated their presence. It’s always been very positive, they’ve interacted with the public, and we feel that it has always lent both a welcoming and a safe feeling.”
But, Edwards says, this is year seems a little different with the possibility of police patrolling out of uniform. It changes the feel from fun and light to something more sinister.
“And while I’m not particularly concerned about our ability to comply with the law, it definitely to me represents a bit of a change in the cooperation that we’ve had in the past. It feels like it assumes a bit of wrongdoing. There’s a place it comes from that isn’t the same.”
Edwards says she wants to work with Sgt. Dryden and the department to address any concerns they have. All alcohol wranglers are certified with the state’s Training in Alcohol Management course and the maximum two-ounce pour is enforced. Beer Fest brings in hundreds of visitors and, Edwards says, is getting more and more statewide and national media attention.
“It’s an event that puts us on the map here in Haines and so we certainly want it to continue to go well and to be positive,” she says. “We’re hoping we can continue that spirit of collaboration and coordination and cooperation with all entities involved, including the police.”
Of course, with so many people in a confined area drinking beer for several hours, Edwards says some concerns are understandable. But for the most part, the event is calm and cheerful.
“I feel like we have achieved an incredibly mellow vibe at this festival.”
Interim manager Brad Ryan says he’d rather see all officers in uniform so that their presence is more of a preventive measure.
“It stops issues before they happen,” he says. “They’re there and identifiable.”
Statistics aren’t readily available for the number of arrests or incidents during past brew fests, but Edwards says she knows traffic is in issue, and there have been times when they’ve 86ed someone for misbehaving. It’s bound to happen.
“There’s a ton of people here for this weekend,” Edwards says. “Our town is small and so we feel the visitor impact in a way that is absorbed a little more easily in bigger communities. But the impact is also positive in some ways, too … many ways, hopefully more than not.”
Last minute preparations are going well, according to organizers, with shipments arriving, volunteers at the ready, and the chef for the Friday night dinner “foraging in the woods” for fresh edibles to add to the feast. Twenty vendors will be on hand with a variety of ales and lagers for sampling. The connoisseur’s tasting starts at noon on Saturday and is only open to 200 ticket holders. It’s a chance for beer aficionados to get a more intimate tasting with time for questions and answers with the brewers.
The main event starts at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Dalton City.
More information at seakfair.org