Deputies prepared to ensure safe festival

OKEECHOBEE — In a news conference at the Sunshine Grove on Thursday, Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen explained the steps his deputies are taking to ensure a safe start to the third annual Okeechobee Music Fest.

“We’re taking precautionary measures in relation to the aftermath of Parkland,” Sheriff Stephen said. “We have barricades and are monitoring people, with some undercover officers in place. We’ve already made several arrests. We’re searching at the entrance now, and still have the amnesty boxes in place again.”

The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) got an earlier start during this year’s festival, stopping cars three days before the official opening, targeting the vendors, workers and volunteers who may be bringing in any illegal substances.

“We’ve made close to two dozen arrests in the last three days before many of the attendees were even here,” said Sheriff Stephen. “We’ve stopped a considerable amount of narcotics, and it was well worth the effort that it took to get that done and stop the people who were going to sell the attendees food and then try to sell them drugs.”

Posts made by volunteers on social media and on the official Okeechobee Music Fest sub-reddit on indicated that they’d be less likely to volunteer after hearing of the crackdown.

“I think that those volunteers that are worried and have other reasons to be here are going to stay away,” Sheriff Stephen responded. “But I think the volunteers that are here to get their passes and work a little bit to earn it will be happy to keep volunteering. So I don’t think it’s going to hurt the number of people who come in.”

Okeechobee County Commissioner Terry Burroughs was also on hand to “provide moral support” as the OCSO and the Okeechobee County Fire Department oversaw the safety preparations.

“I commend the sheriff on his plan for managing the traffic today,” said Commissioner Burroughs. “The ag center, which is where they’re doing will-call, went great this morning. The sheriff and the fire chief have things pretty much in control. My job is to help manage the sound. Other commissioners will also be out with the sound people and try to ensure everything is managed the best we can. We’ve changed around some of the staging to help with some of the noise complaints we’ve had. We’re trying to manage what our residents want and what all the visitors here want as well.”

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