When you visit Big Tex this year, you'll be greeted by some new faces at the State Fair of Texas.
Dressed in khaki shirts, around 75 retired police officers make up the fair's new safety team. The retirees will help man stands, work lost and found and walk the crowds to assist fairgoers.
"They're warm and they're friendly and they love helping people," said the fair's director of security Jeff Cotner. "So you just exploit that whole notion that they're great people who want to do the right thing, yet in an emergency situation they can jump in."
Cotner, who retired from the Dallas Police Department as a deputy chief, said the idea of employing retired police officers has been in the works for a while.
State Fair Of Texas
Covering the great State Fair of Texas - Sept. 24 to Oct. 17, 2021
In the past dozens of uniformed Dallas police officers were required to man stands around the fairgrounds and were confined to a specific area, now members of the safety team will fill that role, allowing the officers to be better utilized elsewhere, Cotner said.
"We are excited because they will actually be replacing some of the positions we’ve had to staff in the past," said Dallas Deputy Chief Michael Igo. "If they do identify something they can bring it to our attention so we can act."
Igo said there would be no reduction in the number of officers at the fair, only the use of retirees would allow his officers to focus on issues that need specific law enforcement attention.
The fair opens after several violent incidents in nearby Deep Ellum prompted an increase in police response in the entertainment district.
Igo said the department has the resources to address crowds in both areas.
"You will see just as much presence down in Deep Ellum as you will here at the fair," Igo said.
Miguel Sarmiento retired from the Dallas police department a few years ago and said he's looking forward to serving the city in a new capacity at the fair.
"I haven't been in years so I'm looking forward to it," Sarmiento said.
In addition to a strong police presence, extra steps are being taken amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Per a Dallas County order, masks are required to be worn while inside buildings for everyone older than age 2 and medically able to wear one. Face coverings are also required in crowded outdoor settings; some independent vendor booths may also require masks.
"Really our goal is on a safe fair," said Karissa Condoianis, spokesperson for the State Fair of Texas. "That's the goal at the end of the day."
This year marks the return to the fair's traditional format, compared to last year's drive-thru event that was held amid coronavirus restrictions.
Early on, fair organizers urged visitors to follow the relevant health guidelines in order to slow the spread of the virus.
Attendees are not required to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to enter the fair, however, per a Dallas County order, masks are required to be worn while inside buildings for everyone older than age 2 and medically able to wear one. Face coverings are also required in crowded outdoor settings; some independent vendor booths may also require masks.
Fair officials said Tuesday that 80% of the fairgrounds are outdoors and that people should spread out, explore and create some space between themselves and other guests. Also, guests should consider attending on weekdays instead of the typically more crowded weekend days.
The State Fair of Texas has installed 1,000 free hand sanitizing stations around the grounds and at vendor kiosks.
Cotner said signs will be posted throughout the fairgrounds strongly encouraging people to wear masks. Cotner said masks will also be available at the park for those who may have forgotten them or misplaced them.
"By the actions of Dallas County they [masks] are required at our indoor facilities. Our employees are not going to actively enforce that," Cotner said.
Attendees are asked to bring their own masks to the fair, but a supply will also be available at the gates for those who forget, fair officials said.
Fair officials said attendees should also wear face coverings if they take DART or another form of mass transit to the fair. Masks are required on public transportation, per a federal order, and those not wearing masks will not be allowed on DART buses or trains.
Dallas police shared the following safety recommendations Tuesday.
- Lock your cars and put away/hide belongings.
- Take pictures of your kids on that day in case they get lost. A photo of your child in the same outfit they're wearing at the fair makes it much easier to find them.
- Permitless or constitutional carry is NOT allowed at the fairgrounds and violators will be subject to arrest.
- Drink responsibly.
Vaccine Event at the State Fair of Texas
Dallas County plans to administer the Pfizer vaccine for those who are receiving their first dose, and the Moderna vaccine for people who are receiving their second dose. Vaccines are available at Big Tex Circle from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the 24-day length of the fair.
Dallas County is also offering an incentive of $20 in State Fair of Texas food and ride coupons to those who are eligible and receive their vaccine while at the fair.