City beefs up security for big weekend crowds
Busy holiday for police as festivals, sports draw thousands downtown.
There will be college football fans, sci-fi fanatics, black pride revelers and avid readers — thousands of them. And they’ll all be in and around Atlanta this weekend for events as diverse as the city itself.
“It’s always fun to watch the football teams’ fans come into their hotels not knowing what’s going on,” Atlanta police Deputy Chief Scott Kreher said of the Labor Day weekend convergence. “And they run into DragonCon and the parade and the costumes.”
As many as 300,000 are expected to hit Atlanta streets both Saturday and Sunday as part of a variety of celebrations, gatherings and games. By Monday, as many as 700,000 will have visited, making it the busiest holiday weekend of the year for the Atlanta Police Department.
It’s not a weekend off for any of the city’s officers, Kreher said Thursday. Both uniformed and undercover officers will be out, along with some 10,000 cameras keeping a watch over downtown as part of a video network that has been in place several years.
“We’ll have all hands on deck both weekend days,” Kreher said.
So what is going on? DragonCon, Atlanta Black Pride, The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between Auburn and Washington, and LudaDay Weekend — created by rapper-turned-humanitarian Ludacris — are among the events scheduled for Labor Day week- end, plus a host of others just outside of downtown.
Saturday on the Georgia Tech campus, the Yellow Jackets will kick off their football season vs. Alcorn State in front of an expected crowd of 30,000. More than 600 authors are expected to speak and sign their work at the annual AJC Decatur Book Festival, which runs today through Sunday. In Cobb County, the Atlanta Braves will host Pittsburgh for a weekend series. And, Saturday night, ’70s Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd will perform at Cellairis Ampitheatre at Lakewood.
“The diversity of our events is an important part of what makes the City of Atlanta a unique, multifaceted destination,” APD Chief Erika Shields said in an emailed statement. “We hope everyone has a great time and enjoys the best Atlanta has to offer. Our officers will be out among the crowds and stand ready to serve.”
But with the recent Jacksonville mass shooting at an “esports” gaming convention that left two dead and 11 injured, DragonCon will have additional security in place. DragonCon, which draws tens of thousands in sometimes elaborate costumes from their favorite sci-fi movies and comics, also hosts a gaming area in AmericasMart building 1. Kreher said security will be in place to make sure any weapons are part of the theatrics rather than the real thing.
Planning for this year’s Labor Day events began as soon as they ended last year. Plans for keeping the public safe also began months ago, Kreher said. APD considers the weekend a warm-up to even bigger events, such as the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And with state and federal law enforcement also prepared to help local officers, it should be another busy, fun weekend in the city, Kreher said.
“This is not unique,” he said. “We have this every Labor Day. All of these events were here last year. We’re looking forward to another exciting weekend.”
Those planning to attend the various events should also do their part to stay safe, according to police. Parking will fill quickly, so plan to use a ride-share service or MARTA, which plans to run additional train service. If you must drive, don’t leave any valuables in your car. If you own a gun, leave it at home, Kreher said.
Lastly, event-goers are reminded to report anything suspicious to an officer in the area or by calling 911.
“We want the public to know we want to hear from them,” Kreher said.
An Atlanta police officer and a Georgia state trooper work together Thursday to direct traffic in the parking area of the Atlanta Hyatt Hotel as people descend upon the city for a Labor Day weekend jampacked with events in downtown Atlanta.
Atlanta police officer Joshua Shields (left) surveys the outside of the Atlanta Hilton Hotel in downtown Atlanta on Thursday. This is Shields’ third year overseeing the Hilton Hotel during DragonCon.