July 3, 2002 – As security officials across the nation implement plans to keep Independence Day celebrations safe, police on St. John say they have taken the necessary steps to guard the small island's biggest party of the year.
Thursday's Fourth of July festivities — J'Ouvert, the mid-day parade, a reggae concert, band music in the village and fireworks — cap the the annual St. John Festival. For a non-stop last lap from Wednesday night's pre-j'ouvert partying through the fireworks finale, police say they're expecting close to 7,000 people in Cruz Bay.
Although the St. John Festival has traditionally been one large happy and peaceful fete, violence marred the celebration in 1998 and 1999 when scuffles led to fights, stabbings and retaliations that resulted in deaths. Since then, organizers have vowed to keep similar incidents from happening. So far, with the support of police, private security and surveillance cameras, they have been successful.
This year, besides attending to drunks and rowdies, security forces will be on the alert for any other possible types of disruption.
Deputy Police Chief Angelo Hill said all has been well since the Village opening last Friday night. But he said Wednesday that his officers still have a lot of work ahead of them. "Nothing's changed so far," he said, with a Wednesday late-night boat ride dance expected to return to town in the early morning hours and the J'Ouvert morning musical tramp set for a 4 a.m. start.
St. John Festival and Cultural Organization member Natalie Thomas said extra security precautions will be in place for the Fourth of July Parade. Some 44 entries are scheduled to take part, including troupes, bands, pageant kings and queens, moko jumbies, clowns and majorettes.
According to Thomas, the parade committee chair, most of the security measures will be low profile. She said committee members will be stationed along the parade route to keep revelers moving along, and wooden barricades will be placed at stategic points to cut down on pedestrian traffic.
As was the case in April for the V.I. Carnival parade on St. Thomas, a special Haz-mat security team made up of law enforcers from combined agencies is expected to be on hand in case of emergency. Special security and police details have been deployed at large events across the country since the mainland terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
All that Hill would say regarding the role the V.I. Haz-mat team will play on the Fourth of July was that "they're ready." He also said there would be extra security in and around the Cruz Bay harbor.
This Fourth of July, Cruz Bay may be even more crowded by night than by day, with a privately promoted reggae concert featuring international artists in Winston Wells Ballpark about the same time the popular Jam Band takes the stage in the Cleone Creque Festival Village, and the traditional fireworks finale to follow.
The concert promoters have hired private security for crowd control, Hill said, but police will be ready to shift their forces to wherever they are needed. "We just have the guys being a bit more alert," he said.
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