St. Pat's festival organizers boost security - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

St. Pat's festival organizers boost security

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

More than 50,000 people are expected to pack Five Points Saturday for the 31st annual St. Pat's in Five Points celebration.

Organizers have stepped up security for this year's event, but they say it's not in response to recent violent crimes in the area.

February put all eyes on the entertainment district as Columbia Police responded to violent crime two weekends in a row.

Police Chief Randy Scott responded to the crimes by increasing patrols and maintaining the area was still safe.

"Incidents are going to happen," said Scott. "It's a alcohol district. Things happen at night."

Now in anticipation of Five Points' largest annual event, organizers say safety has always been a top priority.

"We try not to be reactive, but rather pro-active, and the types of issues that we've had in Five Points recently are not the types of issues that would happen during this festival," said Merritt McHaffie, executive director of the Five Points Association.

McHaffie says last year, nearly 50,000 people turned out for the festival and they expect even more this year.

"We spend about $35,000 each year on the police," said McHaffie. "In addition to the CPD, officers, we also hire T-shirt security as well."

"We will have more officers than ever working this festival because it's grown," said CPD officer Jim Crawford.

In addition to more patrols, organizers say you'll see changes to the way you enter the festival, and expect gate guards to check your bags.

Organizers say there's a festival brochure for the first time ever. In addition to having a map and festival information, McHaffie says there's also a safety plan in case things go awry.

But McHaffie says she doesn't anticipate needing that and adds it should be seen as a precaution.

"When you're talking about our festival from 9 to 6 p.m., and even into the evening of the day of the festival, it really is the safest place in the city," said McHaffie.

Columbia Police agree and say festival-goers should feel safe.

"The few incidents we have had, they've been noteworthy obviously and we've addressed those head-on, and there's no question that the level of protection we have here. I would bring my family down, and I plan to do so," said Crawford.

Columbia Police crime data shows the total number of violent crimes has actually dropped in Five Points from 2010 to 2011, and then just slightly increased in 2012.

As of late February of this year, Columbia Police reported four violent crimes, which is just on par or just slightly below the 2011 and 2012 data.

But festival organizers say they have never had a major incident at the festival and they'd like to see it stay that way.

Gates open at 9 a.m. For more information on St. Pat's in Five Points visit: http://stpatscolumbia.com/

If you still want to register for the "Get to the Green" race, enter the code WISTV on their website for $5 off race registration.

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