Police grateful for convention calm

(The Associated Press circulated the following article on July 28.)

BOSTON -- It's just after 2:30 p.m. on Day Two of the Democratic National Convention, and the Boston police bomb squad gets a call: An unattended bag has been spotted at the subway's South Station.

Officer Todd Brown races to the transportation center with his bomb-sniffing German shepherd, Jesse, barking excitedly in the back of a police Ford Expedition. But by the time they get there, Jesse's services are not needed.

Another bomb squad is already on the scene.

The unattended bag is simply a suitcase left on an overhead rack by a commuter rail passenger. More than a dozen officers who have converged on the platform quickly disperse.

Halfway through the four-day meeting of Democrats, such calls have become the meat and potatoes of police work. So far, no protesters have been arrested, a far cry from the thousands of arrests predicted when protest groups first descended on Boston.

Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole sees three reasons for the calm: peaceful protesters, non-confrontational police tactics -- and a little luck.

``The vast majority of protesters want to exercise their right (to free speech) peacefully, and we are trying to accommodate that,'' she said.

Miles of highway have been closed and riders on the subway system have been subjected to random bag checks.

``We're not out of the woods yet,'' O'Toole said. ``We never know what will happen from minute to minute, but I'm hoping that the tone that's been set so far will continue.''

In the Unified Command Center at police headquarters, officials from 15 law enforcement agencies are fielding calls and watching video from more than 100 cameras placed near the convention site and other key locations around the city.

The high-powered cameras are being used to monitor demonstrations, as well as activity in and around the FleetCenter convention site and at convention parties too.

Big-screen monitors on the walls give a rundown of reports from police in the field. ``Pro-Bush protesters being surrounded by anti-Bush people -- possible fighting,'' reads one notation describing a minor skirmish on the Boston Common.

The bomb squads have been the busiest police units, responding to about 30 calls of unattended or suspicious bags and packages since Sunday.

``We treat everything as if it's just a bona fide event unless we determine otherwise,'' Boston police Superintendent James Claiborne said.

Luckily, Claiborne added, most of the items have turned out to be ordinary backpacks or bags people have forgotten. One was a bag of grapes.

O'Toole said the department has mainly used police on mountain bikes to monitor the various protests, believing they appear less confrontational than police wearing helmets and nightsticks.

``Over the years, we've come to realize that if you present the image that you are ready to do battle, it's probably going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy,'' she said.

Nick Giannone, a 28-year-old boilermaker from Quincy, has been part of the protests for the past several days. On Tuesday afternoon, he stood near the FleetCenter holding a life-size cutout of President Bush decorated with slogans such as ``Will kill for Oil.''

Giannone said the police have been intimidating, but they have been restrained with protesters.

``It's been pretty tame. I've definitely seen worse,'' he said. ``Good with protesters. They've been pretty consistent -- I don't want to say accommodating -- but they let us do our thing even if they surrounded us.''

Wednesday, July 28, 2004
bentley@ble-t.org

http://www.ble-t.org/pr/news/headline.asp?id=11144

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