Folk festival introducing something new this year - a police presence

City police will have an official presence at Gallagher Park this weekend for the first time in the 38-year-history of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

City says recent incidents required a rethink of emergency preparedness for special events

Thousands of music lovers flock to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival every year. The popular summer festival isn't sure how it will be impacted this year by COVID-19. (Edmonton Folk Music Festival)

City police will have an official presence at Gallagher Park this weekend for the first time in the 38-year-history of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Every year, tens of thousands of music fans flock to the park grounds for the four-day, all-ages event. Festival producer Terry Wickham said he was told two weeks ago by the Edmonton Police Service that eight officers would be assigned to monitor the grounds.

He called that proposal, "completely excessive."

"My concerns was we were going from no police officers to eight," he said, describing the festival site at Gallagher Park as a "bit of an oasis." 

"It's about perception. The perception can very quickly become reality. And I just didn't feel we were being listened to, it was being imposed on us without us having any say in it."

Recent incidents have required the city to rethink its emergency preparedness for signature festivals and events, the city said Tuesday in an email.

"What festival goers will see is a small number of uniformed officers on hand in case anything unexpected occurs," the city said. "They will be visible, just as they are visible at other festivals and events across Edmonton."

After meeting with several officers on Tuesday, Wickham said he felt better about how the security situation will play out. He said not as many officers will be visible on site all the time as originally planned.

"But there will be enough ability to respond in the unlikely event there was an incident."

Wickham said the festival has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars on better infrastructure that can withstand events such as the severe windstorm that hit the festival last year. That's a nod to how the festival takes safety seriously, he said.

Wickham acknowledged that events such as the van attack in Toronto earlier this year, and the stabbing of an Edmonton police officer following an Edmonton Eskimos game last year, have changed the security dynamic for many.

"I think everybody is kind of spooked after Commonwealth Stadium, Toronto — just the way the world is going," he said. "The police have their things they do, and I'm sure they went through everything, just like we do at the folk festival. What went right, what went wrong.

"So when they have a big incident like that, they did their analysis and felt there was some weaknesses and they wanted to  address those."