Sunday, October 1, 2023

Kings Dominion Seeing Lower Police Reports of Certain Incidents than Busch Gardens

JCCPD is searching for suspects involved in an assault at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. (WYDaily/Courtesy of James City County Police Department)
The original story published on Oct. 11 did not indicate the exact days of both parks’ operating season and did not directly indicate the incidents in relation to said operating season. The story and headline have been amended to reflect this information. We apologize for any confusion. -Ed.

REGIONAL — Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW) is seeing a higher number of police reports from its park this season than Virginia’s other major theme park, Doswell’s Kings Dominion (KD).

Throughout the 2021 season, BGW has gone viral on social media, not for being the “World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park” (as it has been awarded for over three decades by the National Amusement Park Historical Association), but for the number of incidents that have occurred in which the local police department was called.

On Aug. 8, the video of a fight that broke out in the queue line for the park’s roller coaster, Griffon, spread around the internet. More incidents followed, including one on Oct. 1 where, according to the James City County Police Department (JCCPD), a fifteen-year-old juvenile was assaulted by another juvenile while he was sitting on a bench at the park. The reported offender left the scene before department officers arrived. The victim was treated by paramedics for what the JCCPD described as “road rash.” The victim’s mother did not wish to press charges.

These latest incidents have alarmed guests and begs the question if the higher number of incidents in which the police department has been called is universal for both of Virginia’s two major theme parks, or is it isolated to just BGW?

The Two Parks

Haunt at Kings Dominion (Courtesy of Kings Dominion)

Like BGW, KD has been part of the theme park scene in Virginia since 1975. Both parks are owned by major corporations, with the former owned by SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. and the latter owned by Cedar Fair, and both parks boast thrill rides, family-friendly attractions, a handful of shows, and both have water parks associated with them (though KD’s water park, Soak City, is located within the greater park itself, while Water Country USA is located about three miles away from BGW). Both parks have seasonal festivals, such as Howl-O-Scream at BGW and Haunt at KD during Halloween. Lastly, both parks have devoted fan followings.

Many will note that the differences come down to the intense level of theming as well as the animal attractions at BGW, while KD tends to place more emphasis on thrill rides and attractions over immersive themed experiences. Though close to one another (situated just over an hour’s drive apart), there is little doubt that a day at BGW will differ from that of one at KD.

What The Data Says

WYDaily reached out to both parks as well as the JCCPD and the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) (which is the jurisdiction that KD falls in) for data regarding incidents over the past five years, to include the 2021 season thus far. The data for BGW is accurate as of Sept. 23 while the data for KD was provided to WYDaily by the HCSO on Oct. 5, 2021.

It is also important to note that BGW had 222 operating days versus KD’s 98 days. The percentage in each row is based on incidents and operating days.

The table below breaks down this data for the 2021 season:

2021 Police Calls
Busch Gardens Williamsburg* Kings Dominion**
Accident 26 (11.71%) 11 (11.22%)
Assault Report 14 (6.3%) 11 (11.22%)
Disorderly Persons 64 (28.83%) 28 (28.57%)
Fight 28 (12.61%) 6 (6.12%)
Intoxicated Persons 28 (12.61%) 1 (1.02%)
Larceny (Report) 28 (12.61%) 15 (15.31%)
Missing/Runaway Juveniles 9 (4.05%) 2 (2.04%)
Suspicious Person 8 (3.63%) 3 (3.06%)
Verbal Domestic 9 (4.05%) 3 (3.06%)

*Data accurate as of Sept. 23, 2021 courtesy of the James City County Police Department
**Data provided on Oct. 5, 2021 to WYDaily courtesy of the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office

Since both parks were closed most of the 2020 season due to the pandemic, the table below compares the same incident data from the respective departments for the 2019 park season:

2019 Police Calls
Busch Gardens Williamsburg* Kings Dominion*
Accident 29 29
Assault Report 14 23
Disorderly Persons 52 42
Fight 11 5
Intoxicated Persons 32 2
Larceny (Report) 53 109
Missing/Runaway Juveniles 4 7
Suspicious Person 4 23
Verbal Domestic 7 16

*Data accurate as of Sept. 23, 2021 courtesy of the James City County Police Department
**Data provided on Oct. 5, 2021 to WYDaily courtesy of the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office

No. 1 Story of 2016
Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s annual Christmas Town winter celebration (Courtesy Busch Gardens Williamsburg)

It is important to note that the data shown for 2019 encompasses the entire calendar year’s operating season, while the data for the 2021 season only includes data through the dates indicated in the table’s caption.

The number of incidents reported to the local police departments from BGW is higher in several different categories (including Accident, Disorderly Persons, Fight, Intoxicated Persons, Missing/Runaway Juveniles, Suspicious Person, and Verbal Domestic) than that of its Doswell neighbor during the 2021 season.

Data Disparage

There is little doubt that 2021 has seen its fair share of unprecedented challenges for businesses, particularly those of hospitality, tourism, and food service.

Employees at Busch Gardens are wearing face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic (Courtesy of Busch Gardens Williamsburg)

As guests returned to theme parks during the latest iteration of the COVID-19 pandemic, measures were put in place by these destinations based on local and state COVID-19 mitigation measures and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Parks installed hand sanitizing stations, began requiring unvaccinated guests to continue to wear face coverings, and recommending social distancing, no-contact payment options and implemented increase sanitization of high contact areas.

While both parks were heavily advertising employment opportunities during the 2021 season, it is unclear if this is in any way correlated to the data disparage above between the two parks.

In fact, it is unclear what antecedents have been contributing factors as BGW did not respond to questions asked by WYDaily regarding this nor did Kings Dominion provide any response as of the publication of this article.

New Policies

Following the rash of incidents (as noted in the above tables), BGW announced a new policy that started on Sept. 24 and is slated to last through Oct. 31.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW) during Howl-O-Scream (Courtesy of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.)

The new policy states that no bags will be permitted in the park past 4 p.m. Exceptions are made for wristlets and packs that measure less than 8″x5″, but will be subject to security inspection. Any item that is required for medical reasons will need to be packed in a clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bag and should not exceed 12″x6″x12″. Guests who arrive at the gate at 4 p.m. or later with bags that do not meet these requirements will be asked to to return them to their vehicle. Additionally, all bags, regardless of what time the guest comes to the park, are subject to security screening. Click here to learn more about BGW’s current bag policy.

When pressed with questions regarding any further information regarding the uptick in incidents, any further security measures taken, and how the park will continue to assure guests that they will have a safe experience, Matthew Klepeisz, public relations manager for BGW, provided the following response per an email to WYDaily:

“We continue to be committed to providing safe experiences for families to visit and have fun. This is and remains our top priority, as evidenced by increasing the presence and visibility of security, as well as our bag policy.  As I have mentioned [in a comment printed in a Sept. 24 article from WYDaily], every decision regarding security policies and procedures is made with that goal in mind. In addition to our own security measures, we work closely with law enforcement.”

According to its website, KD’s policy remains the same as the rest of the season, with all guests going through metal detectors and their bags subject to screening prior to park admission. It is unclear if the policy has altered during its special Haunt festival.


Kings Dominion during its annual Winterfest Celebration (Courtesy of Kings Dominion)

Without direct answers nor data provided by either park, WYDaily is currently left still asking what the antecedents are behind the increased incidents at BGW and why there is a  disparage in data between BGW and KD.

Time will tell if this trend continues, how effective BGW’s new security measures are and will continue to be, and how this will impact either park in the long run.

WYDaily will continue to follow this story and keep you up-to-date on any new developments and data that becomes available.

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