Safety concerns have put an end to a carnival that for many years has been a key feature of Richfield's July 4th celebration.
The end came when the City Council recently approved an event permit and liquor license for the 2013 Fourth of July celebration but added a requirement that a carnival not be part of the event at Veterans Park.
The action has roots stretching back to summer, when City Manager Steve Devich asked the committee that runs the celebration to discontinue the carnival after nine street gangs based outside the city were identified at this year's event.
Thirty-eight Richfield police and Hennepin County sheriff's deputies staffed the July 4th celebration that night. Police responded to 19 incidents involving disorderly conduct, assault and weapons violations. Two teenage gang members were arrested with guns, and another individual was spotted with a gun but escaped apprehension. Most of the problems were reported near the carnival.
"When you have as many of our police, Hennepin County deputies and other police helping with that event and you have other elements there that are carrying guns, that's just frightening," Devich said last week. "It gets away from what we want the Fourth of July celebration to be in Richfield."
Katie Robison, president of the all-volunteer Richfield Fourth of July Committee Inc., said a meeting with police convinced committee members it was best to go without a carnival.
The carnival has been a feature of the celebration at least back to the early 1990s. Robison said she did not know there were serious problems at the carnival until this year. But she added that while the carnival was fun during the day, it had an edgy feel at night that made her uncomfortable.
"I've never seen anything, but it was common knowledge that the carnival wasn't the safest place to be," Robison said. "It was just a feeling you got. I didn't take my nieces over there in the evening on the Fourth."
Problems with outsiders -- who were drawn to what Devich called "the lights, the excitement and the crowd" -- started several years ago after noise complaints from neighbors caused the carnival to be moved from near 66th Street to a more secluded spot by the mini-golf course in the park.
On July 4th in 2010, a person was shot in the foot after someone approached him about a block from the carnival, asked what gang he was affiliated with, and fired, said Richfield Police Lt. Mike Koob.
Robison said such reports persuaded the committee to take action.
"We absolutely are not having something that threatens safety trump our events," she said.
Richfield's July 4th celebration draws thousands of people from inside and outside the city, but gang problems have not been reported at other parts of the event. They include a July 2 family night meal, a July 3 street dance, the July 4th parade and the July 4th fireworks display, she said.
When the committee recently announced on its Facebook page that the carnival was ending, there was some criticism from disappointed residents, Robison said.
"I'm fully prepared to deal with some backlash," she said. "People were concerned that the gangs had won. I know where they're coming from; I know people remember [the carnival] and love it.
"But if someone got shot or injured or even killed, no amount of people being pleased that we kept it would be worth it."
She said the committee will try to advertise ahead of time to make it clear the carnival is gone so people who come to the celebration are not disappointed.
Koob said that while planning for next year's July 4th isn't complete, he believes police staffing will be at this year's level.
"If nothing happens, or these crowds don't come out, then we can take a look down the road at scaling back," he said.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan