Following a virtually incident-free
mega-event that found Boston under the world’s microscope for four
days, O’Toole was pleased to give HSToday an interview and bestow
praise on the people who made the event a success.
The logistics of securing what essentially
was most of the city were staggering, O’Toole explained. Planning for
the DNC commenced 19 months prior to the event, with the Secret
Service—the agency in charge of security coordination for the
event—establishing communication with the Boston Police Department and
beginning discussions regarding different measures to help keep the
event incident free.
“Those conversations marked the first time
all agencies (Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service, Boston
Police and Massachusetts State Police) came together following 9/11,”
O’Toole commented. “Those relationships obviously paid off.”
O’Toole asserted that the combined intelligence of all government agencies involved averted many potential safety threats.
A “unified command center”—located at Boston
Police Headquarters—served as central command for all security
officials in the field. She added that intelligence-gathering measures
had been underway for over a year prior to the event. “We were able to
identify potential threats before they had
a chance to manifest themselves,” O’Toole said.
She added that pictures were sent in real
time from cameras located through the city and from State Police
helicopters circling above. Having all tactical decisions come through
central command decreased the probability of a field officer making an
uninformed decision on the spot. Following New England’s Super Bowl win
in January, several students were injured and one was killed during a
riot at Northeastern University. “Recent events taught us to make
decisions with cooler heads,” she said.
“We changed the paradigm for policing a public order situation.”
Though it may be a strong statement to say
that Boston changed the paradigm for policing, O’Toole explained that
the cooperative security force took a different approach to crowd
control during the DNC. Having trained in Northern Ireland on
cutting-edge crowd suppression tactics, O’Toole applied the lessons she
learned on this side of the Atlantic.
Phase I of policing the protesting crowd of
thousands involved plain- and standard-clothed officers in clear view
of the masses. She explained that the focus of the tiered system was to
keep the crowd as comfortable as possible in the presence of the police
force. Officers in riot gear were kept at strategic points throughout
the city, out of the sight of protestors whenever possible, she said.
If the crowd became slightly unruly, Phase II
of the security initiative would be activated. At this point, mobile
field forces—not officers in riot gear—were tapped to respond to the
situation while attempting to maintain a calming presence. She added
that, as a team-building exercise, an entire class of new police
academy graduates was bused across the city to address any need for
added security personnel.
“People expected riot cops to storm out of
the bus, and instead they got a cohesive police squad that quickly
traversed the city,” she said.
Phase III, deployed once during the event and
for only about 30 minutes during the culminating day, featured fully
equipped riot police from both the Boston Police Department and the
State Police. “We weren’t naïve to think that phases I and II would be
sufficient to handle every situation,” she said. The platoon was called
into action when the fenced pen in which the protestors were confined
was “attacked” by a number of protestors. Though the platoon never had
to engage, the force was there and ready for action if necessary.
“We actually got calls from protestors
thanking the force for its patience and positive demeanor,” she said.
“The intermediate approach we took policing helped keep the crowd calm.”
“Had we not been prepared, we would have been irresponsible.”
No expense was spared for equipment and
training for the convention, as security forces were granted access to
innovative technologies and weaponry not seen outside of the military
before the DNC. The Boston media has made a row over the unused arsenal
left in the wake of the DNC, but O’Toole was unfazed. “Every
expenditure was necessary,” she stated.
O’Toole contended that having “scrutinized”
every purchase made for the event, she is confident that the
stockpile—high-powered rifles, protective clothing, crowd control
apparatus—will pay dividends for the force in coming years. “In the
post-9/11 world, [police] must be prepared for any incident,” she said.
“Our hope is that we never have to use any of this equipment.”
O’Toole asserted that all police forces,
especially in urban centers, should have access to the training and
weaponry made readily available to the police forces of the Bay State
for the convention. She acknowledged that most police budgets do not
have the luxury of including many of the newer technologies and
policing methods employed by Boston police during the event, but said
the squad is excited to have them.
Force gets “A’s”
During and following the convention, the
Secret Service complimented the efforts of the Boston and State Police
to maintain safety and order. “The feedback we got from them was
overwhelmingly positive,” O’Toole said.
She commented that the Secret Service “was
forced to make difficult decisions” in preparing and executing the
event. For example, the Secret Service made the call on closing North
Station and Route 93 during the convention—both major commuter
arteries—a decision that inspired many Bostonians to flee the city to
avoid anticipated traffic jams. The Secret Service contended that
keeping commuter traffic to a minimum in and around the Fleet
Center—convention headquarters—would keep workers and DNC participants
Keeping an eye on the goal—safer neighborhoods
Boston Police have continued to utilize the
elaborate camera system installed at strategic points around the city
to keep a watchful eye on potential terrorist activity during the
convention. On the heels of a summer that has seen an alarming number
of homicides in the city, O’Toole has decided to relocate many of the
cameras to high-crime neighborhoods throughout Boston. She noted that
the American Civil Liberties Union may put up roadblocks to keep the
cameras off the streets, but asserted that most residents of the
targeted neighborhoods “seem very receptive.” She added, “People have
called the station asking when we are putting the cameras in place.”
And, she said: “The convention will continue to pay dividends.” HST
Technology and cooperation
In assessing the success of the Boston
convention, most experts and observers pointed to the coordinated,
cooperative effort between law enforcement, private security firms and
the use of new technologies.
Beverly, Mass.-based LocatePLUS was one company whose products helped guarantee an incident-free convention.
The company provides a technology database
for government agencies and a scaled-back version for private
organizations. The company claims its database—available on Blackberry
or over the company’s website—offers personal information on 98 percent
of the US population. Cell phone numbers, addresses, places of
employment and even personal associations are listed in the database,
according to Jill Jewell, marketing manager for LocatePLUS.
Jewell told HSToday that the
company’s database was made available to all law-enforcement
organizations responsible for convention security. Tier one access, or
unrestricted status, was offered to all state troopers and local police
on the scene.
Jewell said that, through the database,
security officials were able to access personal information on anyone
deemed suspicious who was lingering around the convention site during
the DNC. Information was also gained through license-plate and social
security numbers. She added that unlisted telephone numbers are also
LocatePLUS gathers its database information
from public records, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Internet and
credit reporting bureaus.
“The police who used the database were very
receptive to the product,” Jewell said. “Local and state police, the
FBI and the [Drug Enforcement Administration] all used the database
throughout the convention,” she said. Jewell added that US Marshals
have been “good customers” for the company.
After giving a few Blackberry database
systems to Logan Airport authorities prior to the convention, Jewell
said the company received major exposure by the national media.
In the wake of their product’s recent
success, LocatePLUS is expanding its product line to include a felony
and misdemeanor records search, a civil records search and search
capabilities for law enforcement officials on the road.
Cambridge, Mass.-based Corporate Resources Group (CRG) provided personal security for the convention.
Contracted by CNN and ABC News, CRG was
charged with securing the media groups’ staff inside the Fleet Center
and communicating with media personnel covering the perimeter of the
Scott Campbell, managing partner for CRG,
told HSToday that the issues the group had been preparing to deal with
over the past 18 months never came to fruition. “If anything, I think
we were over-prepared,” he said.
CRG, which recorded $1 million in revenue
last year, is anticipating a jump of somewhere between 25 percent and
40 percent in annual revenue as a result of the DNC, Campbell noted.
Campbell said CRG met routinely with the
Joint Terrorism Task Force—a mix of local and state police, the FBI and
the Secret Service—and took many of its cues from Secret Service agents
on site. He said the biggest challenge for CRG came in the weeks and
months preceding the event—finding qualified and dedicated personnel.
“Finding people to work around the clock for this type of event can be
an issue,” Campbell said. More than 80 people worked for CRG during the
Having provided security for the likes of
Larry King and the ABC Nightly News talent, Campbell noted that the
anchors were prepared and cooperative for the duration of the event.
“They have seen security before, but this was different because it was
a federally funded effort,” he explained.
Outside the Fleet Center’s confines was
another beast, according to Campbell. He said crowds and traffic posed
challenges that security personnel sometimes couldn’t anticipate.
Still, despite the sometimes-frenzied atmosphere, there were few
— Jeff O’Neill