By several accounts, security was present and conspicuous at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, over the weekend.
The Gilroy Police Department had a “compound” on site, the police chief said. Patrons at the family-friendly food festival reported seeing officers on horses and motorcycles.
Yet, a 19-year-old, identified by police as Santino William Legan, was able to cut through a back fence and begin shooting people at random. The mayhem Sunday left three people dead and at least 12 injured.
It also put a spotlight on soft targets, places like festivals, schools and churches where people often think they can let their guard down and live freely and safely. Another shooting at a festival in New York Saturday that left one dead and 11 injured also emphasized the precariousness of such spaces.
Law enforcement experts say that despite heavier security at festivals, schools and churches, there’s really little that can be done to prevent attacks from happening.
“No one would associate the Garlic Festival with an attractive target,” said James Gagliano, a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory agent.
Patrons offer different views of festival security
Police were present all three days of the festival, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee told reporters Monday.
“We actually create a police compound where we have a command center, a booking area, you know, all the things you would need to run a major operation like this,” Smithee said. “The officers are deployed throughout the park and they’re assigned to different regions of the park so they’re spread out, we don’t have officers all in one spot.”
Christian Swain, whose band TinMan was performing when the shooting broke out, told CNN “the event was well-covered with security and we’d seen them as we came in to set up and play.”
Other patrons reported good levels of security with Gilroy police on horses and motorcyles.
But Sukhraj Beasla, who attended the festival with her family, said security was a little too relaxed.
“They were just kind of like checking the surface level of the bags. I noticed on the tables they had metal wand detectors not being used, there were no pat downs,” she said. At one point, she said she and her family got lost and left the festival grounds, and got back in with ease.
“We were making jokes that you could’ve gotten off the street and walked in,” Beasla said.
Experts say Garlic Festival wasn’t a high risk event
Several experts said the Garlic Festival wasn’t an event that would warrant high levels of security.
“Even if everyone would’ve gone through a checkpoint, it wouldn’t have stopped this guy from doing what he did,” Gagliano said.
The shooter was “committed to getting in,” he said and found a way to avoid the security protocols. That does not mean the Gilroy Police Department was ill-prepared, he said.
“All security considerations are based on what your analysis is of the threat,” Gagliano said. “This wasn’t an event that was going to have high-level politicians or political overtones, this was a Garlic Festival. They probably looked at it and said … the fence should be an enough of a deterrence.”
Three officers responded to the shooter within one minute, Smithee said.
Juliette Kayyem, a CNN national security analyst, said the challenge with events like the Gilroy festival and other soft targets — areas like schools or churches — is improving security.
“We get better about securing them because everything we’re hearing is that entry was secure, that there was a strong presence, an assailant like this will find another way in,” she said.
Philip Mudd, a CNN counter terrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official, said protecting soft targets isn’t “doable in a perfect way.”
“There is no way across America in 50 states, that if you want perfect security, to keep somebody from cutting a fence that you can have it,” he said.
Is it possible to prevent soft target shootings?
Still, enhancing security in parks, restaurants, shopping centers and special event venues, among other public locations is “essential to preserving our way of life and sustaining the engine of our economy,” the US Department of Homeland Security said in the “Security of Soft Targets and Crowded Places Resource Guide” published in April.
The guide provides resources including links to training for citizens and businesses. It also calls on everyone — business owners, first responders, government agencies and the general public — to do what they can to protect their communities.
Gagliano says Homeland Security and the FBI both teach people four steps in dealing with an active shooter: run, hide, fight and tell.
These steps, Gagliano said, include finding a way to evacuate a dangerous situation, finding some form of shelter (a locked door or behind a tree), confronting a suspect if there is no other option and calling law enforcement as soon as possible.
He also said people generally need to be aware of their surroundings, something law enforcement officials call “relaxed alertness.” This includes knowing exit areas and not being glued to a cell phone.
The Garlic Festival organizers are sure to make drastic changes next year, Gagliano said, but putting every officer in Gilroy isn’t the answer.
“These are the times we’re existing in right now,” he said. “Somebody was able to cut a fence and come in.”