Capitol Police Join Team in Denver

Multi-Agency Security Force in Place

Posted August 22, 2008 at 5:52pm

Capitol Police officers will roam amid the thousands of officials manning the streets of Denver and the Pepsi Center this week — a small force complete with a bomb squad, K-9 team and the rank and file.

“It’s basically a Capitol Police force downsized,” department spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said. “It’s actually one of the best times to send a contingent out because it’s recess and, of course, it’s generally less active on the Hill.”

Every convention, the Capitol Police force sends a portion of its 1,600-member department to protect Members. Their job is much the same as on the Hill: provide security details for House and Senate leadership and work to keep the legislative branch safe.

The department is just one of dozens of agencies that come together to secure the convention. In essence, officials set up an all-inclusive campus with police, fire and medical personnel.

Denver’s 1,400-member police force will be primarily in charge of arrests, while federal agencies like the Secret Service and the FBI will handle terrorism threats. Other agencies help with everything from securing the perimeter around the Pepsi Center and Invesco Field to ensuring traffic flows well through the city.

“We’re not a novice at dealing with large crowds,” Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson said. “We’ve had weekends where you might see three major sports events in the same area.”

For the Capitol Police, this year’s conventions are similar to 2004, said Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, who was Capitol Police chief during the last go-round.

“It doesn’t make much difference whether it’s Denver, St. Paul, Boston or New York,” he said. “It all really requires a lot of cooperation between the state, local and federal agencies.”

And this year, the threat level is lower than in 2004, Gainer said, partly because Sept. 11 is further in the past and agencies are better at intelligence gathering.

Law enforcement agencies were on high alert during the 2004 conventions, the first since the World Trade Center attacks, and although Boston only deployed about 3,500 officers, New York had 10,000 at the ready.

Neither Gainer nor other law enforcement officials would say how many officers are protecting the Pepsi Center and Invesco Field this week.

But both Schneider and Gainer said enough officers will be left behind to keep the Capitol secure, despite the fact that some Capitol Police teams, such as the bomb squad, have little more than a dozen members.

Those officers who are in Denver will be handling tasks very similar to those on the Hill, Schneider said. Both areas demand the same anti-terrorism training and crowd-management skills, she said.

“In general, it’s like what we do with any large gathering where there are going to be a lot of people,” Schneider said. “We’re always employing counterterrorism techniques. It’s pretty much the same thing we do every day here on the Hill.”

As a “National Special Security Event,” convention protection is headed by the Secret Service, which leads local, state and federal agencies in addressing threats and creating a security plan.

The basic plan is similar to other big events, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said.

“We have a template we put in place that we’ve used at other venues. It comes down to working off all of our partners,” he said. “We take information from a lot of different areas — from the local police, federal agencies — and we consume a lot of information to help formulate a plan. We like to think we’re getting ready for any scenario.”

The details, however, are kept confidential, and Donovan wouldn’t go into specifics.

But those plans that have gone public are tinted with controversy.

Protest groups and city officials underwent months of legal negotiations over the city-created “demonstration zone.” Protesters thought it was too small and too far from the Pepsi Center, and about 14 groups sued the city.

A federal judge ruled earlier this month that the city’s plans were “justified by important government interests” and did not violate protesters’ First Amendment rights, effectively putting an end to the debate.

The demonstration area is in the parking lot of the Pepsi Center, surrounded by media tents that block any view of the center. Contained by wire fencing, it’s near Seventh Street and Colorado Avalanche Boulevard, where many delegates are expected to arrive.

Police won’t search protesters just for coming into the area, but other preventive measures have already angered some demonstrators.

The Denver Police Department has told officers to look out for stockpiles of supplies that could be used by violent protesters, including maps and bicycles. Officers will also be able to arrest anyone carrying feces or urine with the intent to impede police, thanks to a recent law passed by the city council.

But a recently discovered “temporary processing facility” is perhaps the most controversial. Officers will take anyone arrested this week to the facility — a vacant warehouse on the outskirts of the city.

Protesters have called it “Gitmo on the Platte,” after the nearby Platte River, and compared it to a “kennel for animals.”

The Denver Sheriff Department equipped the warehouse with several cells enclosed by chain-link fences to prepare for massive arrests, though city officials have emphasized that they don’t expect to arrest many people.

Those arrested will stay at the warehouse during processing and then will either post bail or be moved to the nearby County Jail, said Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, a spokeswoman for the Denver mayor’s office.