This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The Boston Marathon bombing tragedy has St. Louis police brainstorming ways to make local events more secure.
Monday’s fatal bombing infused urgency into a Wednesday meeting of the city police department’s command staff about upcoming events in St. Louis, according to Police Chief Sam Dotson. These include the Sat., June 15 Komen Race for the Cure. Last year, more than 50,000 pink-clad participants joined the annual 5K event to fight breast cancer.
“The Komen Race specifically came up,” Dotson said. “Certainly, things in Boston this week have heightened my awareness and attention about the Race for the Cure.”
In the details
Any increased security would likely involve doubling up on existing efforts for this type of event, rather than adding new elements, Dotson said. Typically, the police department works with the fire department, emergency management and EMS and event organizers. They walk through the event layout and timetable, looking at various components.
“Route selection, barricading, where to put the Porta-Potties, do they have an emergency plan in place, do they have medical resources, do they have enough volunteers and staff -- to see if there is an opportunity for someone to exploit the event,” Dotson said.
During events, local, state and federal law enforcement monitor intelligence from all over the country, looking for St. Louis references.
“We have real-time information and real-time conversations with all of the federal agencies about what’s going on,” Dotson said.
In an event the size of the Komen race, teams of bomb-sniffing dogs and an officer from the bomb and arson division sweep the area before start time. The number of teams depends on the size and scope of the event. More may be added for the Komen Race, but no decisions have been made. Dotson declined to say how many overall police officers are assigned to any particular event.
Marathons pose biggest challenge
Two weeks after the Komen Race, at least 80,000 people are expected to turn out for St. Louis PrideFest, which moves this year to downtown’s Soldier’s Memorial. The following week, tens of thousands will gather for the Veiled Prophet Parade and Fair St. Louis.
St. Louis’ next marathon is the Oct. 27 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. Such events are particularly challenging.
“Twenty-six miles through city streets, buildings, residences, shops, lofts -- and it’s on both sides of the street,” Dotson said.
But no matter what security measures are in place, no event is disaster-proof. It’s “the challenge of living in an open society,” Dotson said. But individuals can also play an important role. If someone sees activity that seems out of place, they should call 9-1-1.
“A suspicious backpack, luggage on the side of the road, a U-Haul parked in a spot that just doesn’t seem right,” Dotson said.
St. Louisans may remain on higher alert this summer. But Americans have short memories, Dotson said. This week’s tragedy will likely fade in prominence as the calendar moves forward.
“After 9/11, Fair St. Louis put up a fence and had people with long guns, the National Guard,” Dotson said. “Now Fair St. Louis has returned to what it was pre-9/11, with open borders.”