Police, organizers prep CMA fest security measures, take aim at bootleggers

Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 11:47pm

The CMA Music Festival brings artists and their music to more than 60,000 country music fans in downtown Nashville for four days starting on Thursday.

And while the influx of visitors means a positive economic impact on Music City, the impending weekend has kept Commander Jason Reinbold busy over the past several weeks.

As head of the Metro Nashville Police Department Central Precinct, he is one of the people in charge of making sure the festival visitors are safe.

“What we do is try to join the hands of all the involved parties and make sure it’s inclusive for everyone to benefit from ... and yet we are adamantly determined to create safe environments for the guests that are coming to our city,” Reinbold said.

And while the surge in population can create some tricky traffic situations, overall crime per capita actually decreases in the downtown area during CMA Music Festival weekend.

“This might sound bizarre, but the more activity and the larger the event, typically we’ll see less crime per capita,” Reinbold said. “The opportunity is displaced ... there’s nowhere to hide.”

Last year, police arrested 27 individuals in the downtown vicinity of the Country Music Association activities. By comparison, 30 arrests were made from Thursday through Sunday in the same area during Memorial Day weekend this year. (Data from last year’s CMA arrests excludes some expungements. The information also doesn’t include the overall number of complaints from either weekend.)

MNPD and CMA officials will put in extra security measures over the weekend to help curb crime and control crowds. Specifically, Reinbold carved out overtime money from the Central Precinct budget’s discretionary fund to staff small, mobile teams of officers during peak times of activities.

“We, as a precinct, recognize the fact that there is going to be a huge influx of guests to our downtown area. I can’t neglect that, so therefore I need to make sure I have adequate police staffing,” Reinbold said.

The mobile MNPD units aren’t responsible for responding to radio traffic. Instead, they patrol the sidewalks of Lower Broad on foot. Over the entire weekend, MNPD is providing overtime to 40 officers and 10 sergeants for four-hour shifts, strategically placed during times when people will be coming and going from the festival, and/or bars and clubs.

But even though overall crime is low, Reinbold still says two major crimes remain: larcenies and car burglaries.

Reinbold said most thefts are the result of negligence by people downtown for the festival. For instance, someone might accidentally leave a purse or wallet at a bar, making it a mark for thieves. Visitors are also more likely to leave valuable items in plain view in their vehicles — a practice that leads to auto burglaries and frustrates police year-round.

But for the most part, serious crimes are typically absent from the weekend. 

“I think people are generally good; I’m predicting that most of, if not all, 60,000 people are coming with good intentions. I think we have the same number of thugs here that aren’t going anywhere,” Reinbold said.

CMA president Steve Moore said the festival hires uniformed off-duty MNPD officers to work in the event “footprint.” They also take advice from a nationally known security consultant.

Moore said cooperation between public services, merchants and the festival probably accounts for the low instances of crime.

“By and large, I think the city is pretty aware of this event, and it’s really more of a Nashville event than it seemed to be in years past. At the [former location at the] fairgrounds, it was more of a private party,” Moore said.

Tourists and attendees won’t be the only ones protected by law enforcement this weekend. 

Local artists and the CMA will also have registered agents scouring LP Field and the downtown area, looking for trademark infringers and merchandise bootleggers.

Earlier this year, country artist Eric Church, who is scheduled to play LP Field on Saturday night, filed a lawsuit in federal court against four individuals accused of selling unofficial merchandise.

Church said some people have made a business of selling rip-off shirts and other items bearing trademarks that belong to him.

In May, U.S. District Court Judge John T. Nixon agreed and issued a preliminary injunction and order to seize all of the infringing goods. The order allows local law enforcement and authorized agents of Church to seize fake merchandise. Taylor Swift, who isn’t scheduled to perform at this year’s festival, had a similar order issued last year.

Moore said the CMA Music Festival has even had problems with bootleggers selling unofficial festival merchandise.

“We took some legal measures to protect ourselves from that, and each artist has a right to do the same thing,” Moore said. “It’s not as big a problem as it has been in the years past.”

Along with the influx of straw cowboy hats and fanny packs, the four-day festival is also known to attract street preachers. Last year, the Nashville Convention & Visitor’s Bureau spearheaded a campaign for an ordinance to prohibit “sound amplification” in downtown Nashville.

The effort was directed at street preachers and evangelists who use speakers to denounce sin on sidewalks, sometimes railing against the revealing summer attire of female concertgoers. But free speech concerns were raised, and the ordinance never passed.

One of the groups that typically shows up in downtown Nashville is PinPoint Evangelism, led by Kerrigan Skelly. A calendar on the organization’s website confirms they will have a presence at the festival.

“We saw them last summer, we’ll see them this summer,” Reinbold said, adding that his officers would also make sure the preachers comply with local ordinances and laws. “The one thing we have to do is respect their First Amendment rights. We’ll actually ensure the safety of those aggressive preachers.”