Boston Prepares for the Democratic National Convention
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RAY SUAREZ: Boston is expecting 35,000 extra people to pour into town next week. The city is compact, densely built, surrounded by water, and already packed with tourists in July. A modern army of people and machines has been assembled to keep them all safe. The Democratic National Convention is designated a “national special security event” by the secretary of homeland security.
KATHLEEN O’TOOLE, Boston Police Commissioner: The challenges are unprecedented. We live in a different world today, post 9/11. You know, the days when convention delegates could pull up to the curb of a convention center and jump out of a cab are over, unfortunately. But, you know, we’ve taken every possible scenario into consideration and we’ve developed a plan that I think is extraordinary.
RAY SUAREZ: Extraordinarily ambitious. It means coordinating the work of dozens of federal, state, and local agencies; keeping the city open for business and tourism, while trying to keep an eye on everything that moves: On rails, on roads, on the water, through the air. A lot of the emphasis and effort has gone into securing the Fleet Center, home to the nominating convention itself, and its surroundings.
Busy Causeway Avenue in front of the arena will be closed. Interstate 93 is considered just too close, 40 feet away. It will be shut from 4:00 to midnight, as the delegations arrive for convention proceedings. This week, evening commuters scrambled to North Station in the days before it was shut down. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation authority says 25,000 commuters a day use this station, connecting central Boston to the northern suburbs. At the request of the U.S. Secret Service, it will be closed for convention week. Well, it’s not a surprise.
Right above these tracks sits the arena floor. These people have been told to make other plans.
RAY SUAREZ: What are you going to do next week?
WOMAN: I’m staying home. Our office is closed. How about it?
RAY SUAREZ: Have you figured out what you are going to do next week?
MAN ON STREET: Yeah, work someplace else.
RAY SUAREZ: Really?
MAN ON STREET: Yeah, I have the option to work in a different office, so I’m going to work in a different office.
RAY SUAREZ: So avoid this part of town altogether?
MAN ON STREET: Completely, no thank you.
RAY SUAREZ: So North Station commuters will miss the debut of this unusual structure. Underneath mass transit tracks set for demolition sits a double wall of cyclone fence, thousands of square feet of netting, coils of freshly installed barbed wire. This is the 28,000 square feet of space set aside for protesters at the Democratic National Convention.
KATHLEEN O’TOOLE: The delegates will be closer to protesters in this convention than they have been for many years prior to this. But again, we need to strike a balance between providing opportunities for demonstrators and providing a safe and secure convention for those people living and working in the city and those attending the convention.
RAY SUAREZ: There are several pending court cases challenging the city’s right to confine protests to this space. Yesterday, a judged denied the lawsuit by the protester group saying security concerns override the protesters’ right to have access to the delegates. The protesters will continue to fight against the location and construction of the protest pen even as the convention begins. The state’s director of public safety, who calls the convention “our Super Bowl,” sees the need for control, balancing the right of protest with the right to be protected from potential violence.
EDWARD FLYNN, Massachusetts Secretary of Public Safety: The seminal event of managing American protests was Seattle, when we saw literally thousands of lawful protesters disrupted by people in the ranks who were trying to engage in what they call “direct action.” There are other behaviors meant to disrupt the life of the city, cause vandalism, or even cause injury to police officers.
One of the responsibilities of the state and Boston police department is to try to contain that possibility while still providing a safe environment for lawful protesters
RAY SUAREZ: While the Secret Service controls the convention site, the Boston Police Department is the lead agency in the rest of the city. It’s a small force, more used to policing one of the safest cities in America than fighting terrorism. The police union has been locked in a bitter labor dispute with the mayor and the city of Boston.
Yesterday, an arbiter resolved the dispute but many off-duty and retired officers still plan to picket the convention parties hosted by the mayor next week. City officials say police picketing will have no effect on security staffing.
Not only are they assigned on land, but on water as well. The police and the United States Coast Guard will be the lead agencies in Boston Harbor, making sure no one gets too close to the convention site.
SGT. ROBERT GUINEY, Harbor Control, Boston Police Dept.: I don’t think I’ve ever seen this type of coverage before in the past, but that’s all changed now, it’s all different. We do have the coverage. We have the manpower. We have so many agencies that are all involved in this cooperative effort, so it’s not an easy way in now. And for the event, you will not get close enough to even see what you see now.
RAY SUAREZ: Help is coming in from the state and Boston’s suburbs, but even so, it will be impossible to watch every tourist, every car, every run on the city’s reliable old “T” lines.
MBTA EMPLOYEE: — Southbound, South side.
RAY SUAREZ: Boston has the most sophisticated monitoring system of any urban subway. Any trouble will quickly be passed on to police and fire, cameras can watch the system, detection devices sniff for poisons and explosives, and foot patrols monitor hundreds of miles of track.
MICHAEL MULHERN, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority; It will not be business as usual at the MBTA; that will not be lost on our everyday passengers. For instance, passengers may be subjected to random baggage inspections. Anybody carrying on a belonging onboard an MBTA vehicle during the days leading up and the week during the convention should know by now that that baggage is subject to inspection by MBTA police officers.
RAY SUAREZ: Transit police got the word out to MBTA customers about the new bag search policy.
RAY SUAREZ: Was that controversial?
MICHAEL MULHERN: Yes, it was highly controversial in some circles. But for the most part, the public has been overwhelmingly supportive. Right now, I think, most people agree that there is a compelling public interest at play here that really underscores the MBTA’s need to employ every type of security initiative that can reasonably, not only serve as a deterrent, but help us prepare.
RAY SUAREZ: Secretary Flynn said the expectation is that terrorists would more likely attack targets offering the greatest possible number of casualties, rather than Boston’s priceless historic sites– of symbolic value only to Americans, like old north church.
Police were out in force at Fenway Park. Packed houses are expected for a weekend series against the arch rival New York Yankees. Then the Sox will hit the road for the rest of convention week. After a year and a half of planning, it looks like every detail has been seen to, and it’s going to cost a fortune.
RAY SUAREZ: An auditorium well away from the city center brings together more than 40 law enforcement and public safety agencies at every level of government to trade the constant flow of information; $1.5 million buys a floating command center bristling with communications equipment. Overtime costs will soar for 3,000 members of the Boston PD, days off canceled, working 12-hour shifts. The city will bear many of the costs.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also chipped in. The governor has asked Congress for an extra $25 million to pay for all this planning. The planners’ stated intention is to keep the city working while the Democrats meet.
For all the complex plans and restrictions, Boston was going about its business with little more than the usual delays. One law enforcement official said, “We have to be right about everything next week. Our enemies only have to get one thing right.”