The annual Far Hills Race Meeting held each October may be the year's best party in the Somerset Hills, but arrests, violations issues and police response, as well as commentary, resulting from the behavior of some of the 40,000 attendees last Saturday's outdoor gathering will prompt a review of security policies for future years, said the co-chairman of the event.
Far Hills Police Chief Ken Hartman on Tuesday said disorderly behavior at the steeplechase horse race, a benefit for Somerset Medical Center, "was at its peak compared to previous race events."
Although reported some traffic and impact from the event, the bulk of the reported incidents occurred in Far Hills Borough.
During the afternoon event, for which the gates at Moorland Farms opened on Saturday mornings, there were 25 arrests for violations that ranged from theft and trespassing, to assault, disorderly conduct, public urination and more, Hartman reported.
In addition, three juveniles under age 18 were transported to Somerset Medical Center due to extreme levels of intoxication will be charged with underage drinking, Hartman said.
"This crowd has done more than blemish a great charity event at this point," Hartman said in an email on Tuesday. "There will be people whose future will suffer due to criminal charges. There are people injured who were assaulted at the event and many that ended up at the same hospital hosting the event," he added.
"There are wonderful people coming to the event which abide by the laws and act like adults," Hartman said. Some commented had on the event that they had not seen the reported public drunkenness and other disorderly conduct, "Depending on your location at the event you may have been shielded from the bad behavior," Hartman said. "However, the event has also attracted a crowd of people that are just simply disgusting."
He said a Far Hills Borough subcommittee is being formed to consider changes for the event.
Far Hills Race Meeting organizers to evaluate security policies before future races
Later on Tuesday, Guy Torsilieri, co-chairman of the Far Hills Race Meeting Association, said in a statement issued in response to questions about the incidents, "The safety of spectators is a top priority for the Far Hills Race Meeting.
"We take security concerns very seriously and will be conducting an evaluation of the event’s policies to ensure that future Race Meetings will be fully, and safely, enjoyed by all our guests," Torsilieri said in the statement.
The Far Hills Race Meeting, an official steeplechase horse race that also attracts corporate tents and formal tailgating parties, is a longstanding fundraiser for the medical center in Somerville, and was credited even before Saturday with raising $18 million to support the facility. The Steeplechase Cancer Center is named after its primary donor, and competition to find a local person to sing the National Anthem began as a way to honor cancer patients.
But Bernardsville Police Chief Kevin Valentine has in the past, and again on Tuesday, said that crowd control and handling any traffic or problems created by spectators from the event must be picked up by neighboring police departments, which unlike the host community receive no reimbursement for extra patrols and other security measures.
After this race, Bernardsville issued 37 summonses, many for illegal parking, said Police Lt. Demmings Hoadley. However, unlike in previous years, there were no violations issued for driving under the influence or disorderly behavior, he said.
Hoadley said that the busiest time in Bernardsville was between about 6:30 to 9 p.m., starting when the borough train station on Mine Brook Road (Route 202) discharged racegoers coming back from the Far Hills train station. Some reportedly went on to look for area bars.
Crowd not "different from any other year"
But overall, Hoadley said, "It wasn't any different than from any other year."
Valentine agreed with that assessment, but both he and Hoadley noted that this year there seemed to be many pedestrians walking to the races, or being picked up by others as they walked along Route 202 south of the downtown.
Valentine said taxis were out along the highway after the event ended, looking for customers who had called them for a ride.
Bernardsville police picked up and transported some walkers, including some who were intoxicated, who were walking along the highway, Valentine said.
"It's a safety situation," Valentine said.
Two DUI arrests in Bernards
Further down the line, in Bernards Township, Lt. Mike Voorhees said that two separate arrests for driving under the influence were made at about 7:20 p.m. on Saturday evening, although police cannot say for sure whether those incidents were connected to the race. The drivers arrested were from Short Hills, and from Pennsylvania, he said.
Bernards Township had assigned extra patrols to be on the lookout for intoxicated drivers and to handle extra traffic in the southern area of the township, Police Chief Brian Bobowicz said prior to the races.
Bedminster Police Chief Pat Ussery said the Bedminster department didn't have the plethora of changes that Far Hills and the prosecutor's office dealt with at the race site itself. That department reported a driving under the influence arrest and a disorderly conduct issue at a local restaurant that didn't result in charges, he said.
In Far Hills, Hartman said the late side of the event and the crowds in Far Hills were "at a riot state of behavior."
The 25 people arrested at the event included five people from New York, including four from Manhattan, two from California, two from Connecticut, one from Baltimore and others from Somerset Hills communities or from other counties in New Jersey, according to a report from Hartman. Of those, 21 of the 25 are age 27 or younger, and 23 are males, the police report said.
Moving forward, a subcommittee has been formed to determine changes to the event that will be in place in the future, Hartman said. Those changes that will affect the donations, attendance and more, he said.