Police chief: Anti-terrorism security at Garlic Fest was necessary

garlic-fest-securityPolice Chief Joseph Sinagra said the presence of officers from four different agencies, as well as bomb-sniffing dogs and equipment to detect “dirty bombs” at the Garlic Festival were necessary because the event could be a target for a terrorist or mass-shooter.

“I’m a realist,” said Sinagra. “I look at the events as targets and it’s our job to mitigate the chance of something happening.”

The measures came as a surprise to members of the Kiwanis Club, which runs the festival.

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Jeannine Mayer, village of Saugerties trustee and festival site coordinator, said she “had no idea that’s what they did” when told of the security measures taken to ensure a safe two-day event.

“We’ve only had a few police at the gates in past years, just to give people a sense of security,” she said. “They never told us they went to these lengths.”

Those lengths included not only several Saugerties officers, but State Police, Ulster County Sheriff deputies and state Department of Environmental Protection officers.

On both days of the festival, prior to opening the gates to the estimated 13,000 people who attended, the ground was swept by two bomb-sniffing dogs. During the event, the DEP cops stationed at the entrance ways had radiation detection equipment to ensure that no one was able to sneak a possible “dirty bomb” into the site.

“Having all the police organizations there was a bit self-serving on my part,” Sinagra explained. “By having all of them there it helped me reduce the cost of security.”

For those who say it can’t happen here, “Look at 2005 and the Hudson Valley Mall when a lone gunman from Saugerties went in and started shooting,” Sinagra said. “Most people would have laughed if you had told them something like that would have happened there.”

There are sleeper cells or lone wolves who might be looking to make a statement by attacking the festival, Sinagra said.

“These types of incidents are not beyond the realm of possibility,” he said.

“God forbid something happens and we’re not ready. After this year’s festival we received a number of compliments for having the level of security there that we did. To some people it might have seemed we went overboard. But I believe we must take the necessary measures to mitigate and prevent tragedies. We are not creating a police state. A number of people came into the festival wearing a firearm because they have a permit to wear them.”

Sinagra said the New York State Intelligence Center, which was created in 2010 as part of the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, has declared the Garlic Festival a high risk event.

“The New York State Intelligence Center monitors chatter on the Internet for several days prior to the Garlic Festival and during it to determine the threat level,” Sinagra said. “And it’s those threat levels that dictate the level of response we have.”

Sinagra said when the festival first began in the 1980s, these types of threats were not present. But things have changed and “now we have to be vigilant.”

The worst that has happened at the festival while Sinagra has been the chief of police are “a few gate jumpers who try to get in for free, someone stole a bag of garlic but they were caught, and there was one car break in… That’s why we have patrols in the parking lots, to stop this sort of thing. Look, I don’t want the Garlic Festival to be a soft target, that’s why we harden the site to make it safe.”