A Metro article last Sunday incorrectly reported that Virginia Beach police ticket people who do not wear shirts in public. The city has no ordinance requiring shirts. (Published 9/2/90)
The image that law enforcement officials present at next weekend's Virginia Beach Laborfest will be substantially different from the one that greeted Greekfest revelers one year ago.
Some police officers will go without hats in an effort to soften their appearance this year, and hundreds of volunteers will try to make young people feel welcome.
Gone will be the National Guard and the police helicopters scanning the crowd with powerful searchlights.
But the core of the police response will be much the same, city officials say. A minor infraction of law -- such as not wearing a shirt -- may still result in a summons, and a serious breach of the peace will draw a serious police response.
"There's going to be a visible police presence," said city police spokesman Lou Thurston. "The law is going to be enforced."
The major change will be in police tactics, according to those planning for the event.
A key element will be traffic control -- diverting most vehicles from the beach-front area to reduce tensions among motorists, pedestrians and the police.
Many minor conflicts on the nearly gridlocked "strip" streets of Atlantic and Pacific avenues elevated the temperature of the crowd during Greekfest '89 before rioting broke out. Another feature of the plan this year -- considered but rejected last year -- is to spread out the crowd.
And there will be a quicker police response to hot spots in 1990, police officials said. Although officers will not be wearing riot gear, such as helmets and nightsticks, they will be able to get such equipment and respond to problem areas rapidly, authorities say.
Law enforcement officials were criticized for disappearing for several crucial minutes after rock- and bottle-throwing and looting broke out in Sunday's predawn hours at the 1989 event. The small squad of officers closest to the violence had to retreat several blocks to a visitors center to don riot gear and obtain reinforcements before returning to the scene and starting to clear the streets, officials said afterward.
Virginia Beach police won't disclose details about this year's tactics, such as whether riot gear will be kept at decentralized locations so it can be obtained more rapidly. But they promise a less threatening response to minor trouble.
Officials hope to isolate troublemakers while making other visitors feel welcome.
About 1,000 volunteers -- mostly blacks -- will try to act as community ambassadors of goodwill.
These "festival aides," wearing special T-shirts and hats, will hand out schedules of entertainment and other activities.
Black ministers will be present. More than 100 black police officers from East Coast localities will try to keep things calm.
However, these helpers, once described as mediators, will have limited authority.
"I don't think we want to thrust the volunteers into the role of the police," said Daniel Stone, co-director of the Virginia Beach government task force implementing Laborfest plans. "There is a line."
The State Police will maintain a backup force of an undisclosed size at an undisclosed location away from the beach-front area, for deployment only if serious violence breaks out, according to Col. L.A. Graham, of the field operations bureau.
The National Guard "has not been asked in any way" to be prepared for Virginia Beach duty, according to Maj. Gen. John G. Castles, the state's adjutant general.
A spokesman for Gov. L. Douglas Wilder would not disclose Wilder's plans for the weekend but said he would respond to events if needed.