NY Security Team Gets Thumbs-Up

Posted September 3, 2004 at 6:08pm

NEW YORK — Despite multiple security breaches and the arrest of more than 1,700 protestors, GOP and law enforcement officials offered sweeping praise for the massive security effort staged at the Republican National Convention in New York last week.

“I’ve been listening in the hallways of [Madison Square] Garden and I’m hearing nothing but rave reviews,” Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said Thursday, prior to President Bush’s acceptance speech. “The [security] forces deserve a big round of applause from everyone here.”

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer echoed those sentiments Friday, saying, “Overall I think security was very, very effective, notwithstanding even a couple of protestors having access to the floor.”

Activists were able to breach security at Madison Square Garden on at least four separate occasions during the convention.

On Monday and Tuesday, two protestors who had obtained floor passes attempted to approach Vice President Cheney before being forcibly removed from the area by Secret Service agents.

And at noon Wednesday, 12 activists from AIDS awareness group ACT UP — also accessing the convention using legitimate credentials — stood up, blew whistles and shouted “Bush kills” at first daughters Barbara and Jenna Bush as they left the stage after a speech.

Even Thursday night, during the president’s address, delegates drowned out protestors with chants of “four more years” before security officials removed the individuals.

Despite such interruptions, law enforcement officials lauded the efforts of the 66 participating federal, state and local agencies —including the Coast Guard, Homeland Security Department and Capitol Police.

While the Secret Service coordinated the work of these various agencies and guarded dignitaries and delegates inside Madison Square Garden, the New York Police Department provided the bulk of the manpower outside, with up to 10,000 uniformed and plainclothes officers patrolling the streets and subways around the arena each shift.

Agencies coordinated via the 2,000-square-foot Multi-Agency Command Center, located in an undisclosed Manhattan office building replete with high-tech communications equipment and surveillance monitors that received feeds from cameras set up in and around the convention area.

Secret Service spokeswoman Ann Roman attributed the overall success of the security effort to “close cooperation” between the Secret Service, NYPD and Capitol Police, as well as long-term preparation for the convention.

NYPD officials, for instance, spent more than a year studying past terrorist attacks as models for handling possible worst-case scenarios in New York. They have also been monitoring Web sites run by self-described anarchists in the months leading up to the convention.

Last week, some New York police officers even posed as scruffy, unkempt activists in order to infiltrate the ranks of protestors gathering in Manhattan.

Such meticulous preparation and surveillance paid off for the hundreds of Members and delegates attending the convention who were protected by one of the largest, most expensive combined security forces in recent memory. (Congress appropriated $50 million in security funds for both the Boston and New York conventions.)

“I’ve heard zero complaints from the Senator or any of his colleagues,” said a spokeswoman for Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.). Lott was shepherded through the city by his own Dignitary Protection Detail, made up of a special unit of Capitol Police officers assigned to travel with high-profile Members of Congress.

Despite praise from Congressional officials, numerous New York residents and protestors had plenty to complain about during the convention.

The NYPD blocked off streets surrounding the Garden and redirected vehicles away from the arena — thus interrupting the heavy daily flow of pedestrian and automobile traffic in Midtown Manhattan and frustrating countless New Yorkers, many of them already unreceptive to the idea of hosting a Republican convention in their largely Democratic city.

Hundreds of protestors were also outraged after being illegally held without formal charges by police for more than 40 hours in large, oil-stained metal holding cells.

The demonstrators were released Thursday after a Manhattan Criminal Court judge held city officials in contempt of court for the detentions.

Gainer said the department will draw from the New York convention when planning for the upcoming presidential inauguration. “We were looking at their technology for screening and cars, the fencing that was used, and tactics that [the New York Police Department] was employing,” he said.

In addition, Gainer said the conventions provided valuable information on the interactions between law enforcement officials and large protest groups.

Jennifer Yachnin contributed to this report.