TOPICS > Politics

Securing the Fourth of July

July 4, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: A nationwide effort to protect Americans on this Fourth of July; Betty Ann Bowser begins our coverage.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Law enforcement was on high alert all over the country as Americans celebrated the first Independence Day since 9/11. In New York, an estimated 4,000 police were out in force. Security was tight on Wall Street, and at the tunnels that take people in and out of the city. At the Statue of Liberty, people lined up early for the ferry, some saying they didn’t mind the extra security.

WOMAN: I think it’s a good idea. We’re tourists from out of town, so we appreciate it.

REPORTER: Are you worried?

WOMAN: No.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: F-16 fighter jets could be seen in the skies over New York, Washington and other cities. No-fly zones were also enforced over Mount Rushmore and the St. Louis gateway arch. On the west coast, every police officer in Seattle was on duty and the Coast Guard’s newly commissioned security unit, armed with machine guns, protected Puget Sound.

In California, the Los Angeles International Airport was closed for several hours after gunfire erupted near the ticket counter of El Al, the Israeli airline. It was unclear if the incident was terrorist-related. The state highway patrol had its planes and helicopters in the air to conduct surveillance over a number of facilities, including a major aqueduct to the state’s water supply.

MARK GREGG, California Highway Patrol: We’ve stationed additional units in and around and near facilities, state parks, state bridges in an effort to try to maintain security on the installations.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: In San Diego, there was tighter security at tourist attractions, including Sea World, the Coast Guard and four safety zones at the Naval base around there and around bridges, cruise ships and power plants.

MARK GREGG: We haven’t received any specific targets or specific threats in general, but we have beefed up our enforcement, of course. It is a maximum enforcement period for us.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: For celebrations in Boston, the National Guard was called in to back up police. Undercover officers mingled in crowds wearing portable radiation detecting devices like this one. In the nation’s capital, there was unprecedented security.

A double player of snow fencing encircled the 146 acres around Washington’s Monument corridor. Some 2,000 uniformed police officers were on patrol. And plainclothes police circulated through the crowds on the National Mall. As many as half a million revelers were expected to brave the heat for the annual concert and fireworks. They had to pass through one of the two dozen security checkpoints before entering the area.

SPOKESMAN: I need you to take a drink of that for me, ma’am.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Bags and coolers were searched. People were also scanned with metal detectors.

MAN: We’re at a state of war right now, and if this is what it takes to have good security around here, I’ll say, “No, I don’t mind.”

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Not so visible was another kind of security. A network of video surveillance cameras mounted on monuments and museums were keeping watch all over the capital, and a vast network of FBI agents and Homeland Security officials were on duty monitoring for potential terrorist attacks.

RAY SUAREZ: For more on what is happening in Washington, we go to Teresa Chambers, the chief of the United States Park Police, the force charged with patrolling Washington’s National Mall. I talked with her earlier today from the National Symphony Orchestra concert site on the west front lawn of the Capitol building.

And Chief Chambers, welcome to the program.

TERESA CHAMBERS, Chief, U.S. Park Police: Thank you, Ray.

RAY SUAREZ: What kind of day have you had so far?

TERESA CHAMBERS: It has been perfect. We couldn’t have asked for more cooperation from the customers who have come down here today, or from the officers of the United States Park Police to the 2,000 additional officers who have joined us here today. It’s been terrific.

RAY SUAREZ: Have you done a large crowd control event since September 11 so that some of these procedures have already been run through?

TERESA CHAMBERS: Well, the United States Park Police engages in a lot of demonstrations here in the mall and in the area. The IMF has been the largest that we’ve dealt with since I came here just a few short months ago. Nothing can compare to the size of the crowds we’re expecting tonight, nor the acreage that we’re covering with the snow fence and security screening today.

RAY SUAREZ: So if people were to come down to the National Mall today, what would they see that’s different from previous years?

TERESA CHAMBERS: Well, the first thing they would see is actually the double row of snow fence that’s been erected over the past few weeks. The snow fence was chosen because it’s not a hardened fence. We certainly didn’t want the image of people coming to the nation’s capital to celebrate America’s independence by being closed in. And so the snow fence gave us an opportunity to funnel people through controlled access points.

At each of those access points, every bag, every cooler, is being checked. We want to make certain that there’s no glass containers, no alcoholic beverage, no fireworks, firearms or other illegal substance coming in here. This is a family affair. This is the people’s park. We want it to be a safe and secure day for everybody.

RAY SUAREZ: But it’s also a huge crowd, in the hundreds of thousands. How do you keep the line moving, and move all those people in and out of a confined area?

TERESA CHAMBERS: Well, you know, if I look a little hot, I spent the last three hours walking the crowds and talking to people and then stopping and talking to my officers and those that are helping us today. They have been creative and ingenious on how to move folks through. They’ve opened up extra lines; they’ve shifted people to other lines. They’ve had shortened lines for those that aren’t carrying coolers in. It has been a seamless, and really a great effort.

RAY SUAREZ: Have you had any points where you’ve had sort of the tension between preserving everybody’s good time, preserving the flavor of the festivity and the real need to protect the area?

TERESA CHAMBERS: Actually, just the opposite. I had the most remarkable experience walking along the parade route earlier. Actually, I was walking in the opposite direction of the parade so I could enjoy the parade as well. But I stopped and talked to the officers and the people standing in the crowds.

On three occasions people stepped out who were not from the Washington, D.C., Area– Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, and actually, a fourth, South Carolina– and they said, “this is our first time coming to Washington, D.C..” and in one case, the woman said, “We heard you talk, Chief, about your experiences in Washington as a kid and what it meant to come to the Fourth of July celebration, and what it meant to build up that patriotism inside of you, and we wanted our children and grandchildren to see that, so we brought them here today.” I had a tear in my eye by the time she finished talking to me.

RAY SUAREZ: It’s still hours till the concert and the fireworks begin. Do you have any idea about the building of the crowd? Have people been coming early because of the added security?

TERESA CHAMBERS: Well, there’s been a shift a couple of times during the day. There were actually people in line waiting to come on to the mall property when those checkpoints first opened at 10:00 this morning. Then the next wave came right after the parade.

Many people come to Washington despite the heat today early enough to watch the parade. And when it was over, for the first time, then, thousands came at the same time. And yet it was only a few moments of time that they waited in line to get to through the checkpoint. The next wave will come when the sun starts to move out of the high part of the sky, and then finally, right before 9:00, we’ll get the crush.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, let’s talk a little bit about the crush. When the event is over, you’ll still have a large number of people in a fairly small space. Your job really isn’t over at that point, is it?

TERESA CHAMBERS: No, it’s not. It shifts to a new direction. And that’s helping people ease back out of the area. One of the things the officers will do as the fireworks wind down is help to take down that snow fence themselves so the people can have an easy egress back to either public transportation or to their cars.

RAY SUAREZ: You’ve talked a little bit about the good feelings that you’ve seen as you’ve been walking the area. Is there also a degree to which just seeing you there actually reassures people, where you don’t want to have too many police, but you also don’t want to have too few?

TERESA CHAMBERS: The comments we’ve received from the crowd that I talked with were all the positive ones saying, “Thank you for the extra effort. We feel good about having the officers here.” And these officers are marvelous. If you see and interact with them today, they are so proud to be a part of what’s happening here in Washington today. They’re great interacting with the kids and the seniors and everybody in between. It’s just a very festive mood and one of great patriotism.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, thanks for working on a holiday, Chief, and thanks for talking to us.

TERESA CHAMBERS: It’s my privilege to be here today. Thank you.