JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - The Jones County Sheriff's Department is focused on keeping visitors safe at the South Mississippi Fair this week.
About 90,000 people are expected to enjoy the fair this week, which opened Friday in Laurel. Sheriff Alex Hodge said to keep those thousands safe, his deputies need to be visible to the crowds.
"You have to be prepared, you can't wait until some type of event happens and say well, now we are going to get ready for it," said Hodge. "You have to be ready to do what the people ask and they say protect and serve, keep the people safe. That's what we do."
Sheriff Hodge said there are about 25 deputies working at the fair at any given time. Those deputies are off-duty, so patrols across Jones County are not reduced. Hodge said the time the deputies work at the fairgrounds is paid for by the Mississippi State Fair Commission.
"It's always a work in progress, you can't just sit down on one plan and say that's it," Hodge said.
Sheriff Hodge said his deputies are strategically placed around the fairgrounds in four posts, with those deputies walking around the vendors, rides and exhibits.
"The greatest thing we can do is be able to train our people to be aware, as well as fair staff. Just keep your eyes open and if you see something you think is suspicious, report it to us," Hodge said.. "Let us check it out immediately before it obviously turns into a bad situation."
Along with deputies, there are patrol cars stationed on the perimeter of the fair grounds. There are also armored vehicles inside the gates, near the entrance.
"We just want a good visible presence," said Hodge. "It's not an intimidation factor, it's just a visibility presence of law enforcement."
Sheriff Hodge said they keep one entrance to the fair, which keeps a "one way in, one way out" scenario. That way, officials can keep eyes on any suspicious activity entering or exiting the fair.
Sheriff Hodge said visitors can help keep the fairgrounds fun instead of a hot bed for crime. He recommends leaving anything you won't need at home, instead of carrying a large bag around the fair.
Sheriff Hodge also expressed the importance of visitors keeping an eye on everyone in their group, especially young children.
If you plan on heading to the South Mississippi Fair for fun, food and more, Sheriff Hodge has one message for you.
"I pretty much have a one strike rule, you come in here, you horseplay, you're out the gate. We'll see you on another day."