BANGOR, Maine — While the prospect of safeguarding an event attracting tens of thousands of people to a space not even quite a square mile in size seems daunting, Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia and his officers not only don’t mind it, they look forward to it.
Like most others before it, the 2011 American Folk Festival — and festival-goers — has been on its best behavior.
“Generally, we just don’t have problems here. It’s a good, quiet crowd that just wants to come and have fun,” Gastia said while standing outside the city of Bangor’s mobile command unit parked along the Penobscot River and behind the railroad tracks on the back part of the festival grounds.
“Today it’s been minor with a couple of people separated from their groups. It’s the humidity that’s the big thing. There’s not a lot of heat, but there’s a lot of humidity.”
The command unit is operated by police, fire and emergency officials to maintain constant communication and coordination among all Bangor security and safety officials and workers.
Police officers were expecting a huge crowd Saturday as the impending effects from Hurricane Irene forced festival officials to cancel the third day’s events on Sunday.
“I expect the crowd to increase as the day goes on because this is the last day to do it,” Gastia said. “As the crowds increase, we spread out our officers more so if something happens way down on one end or the other, we have people there.”
Bath salts, a dangerous, synthetic drug and the scourge of the Bangor Police Department for the last several weeks, appears not to be making a presence at the festival.
Gastia said he didn’t expect it to be a big issue.
“You know I really wasn’t [expecting it] and the reason is because of the crowd that comes to this,” he said. “It’s not that type of crowd. What we’ve been seeing with bath salts primarily is people who are already drug users. That’s not typically who we see coming to this. This is more of a family-oriented crowd.”
Gastia has been to all 10 folk festivals, the last five of which as the police chief. But he still prefers to get in his uniform and actually walk the beat along the festival grounds when it’s taking place.
“I don’t take anyone else’s assignment, but I do like to be here and have a presence for two reasons. One, it shows I support the festival and it shows the police department is here and we’re all in,” Gastia explained.
Of course, he also has personal reasons for going on foot patrol.
“It’s like old home week for me. I see people here every year that I haven’t seen for years or anywhere else,” he said. “I have friends I never see who live in southern Maine and the only place I ever see them is here.”
“People are just so friendly, I love to be out here in the crowd and talk to people as they walk by,” he added. “Even some of the vendors are people I’ve gotten to know and it’s kind of traditional to go see them. I always go down to the stand that the Greek Orthodox Church has every year. That’s one of my favorites.”