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Convention crime prevention.

As security professionals gather this month for their own annual meeting in San Antonio, TX, they may wonder how Democrats recently handled security at the Democratic National Convention. Security is one of the biggest concerns at such an event, where the major players aren't always known ahead of time, and the candidates are vying for the highest elected office in the United States.

This summer, from July 13-16, the party convened at Madison Square Garden in New York City to adopt its platform and nominate Bill Clinton and Al Gore for the top spots on the national ticket. Securing the facility, the candidates, and the 30,000-plus attendees each day was the responsibility of US Security Inc. (USSI), a Bethesda, MD, security consulting firm. The task involved close coordination with the United States Secret Service, the New York police department (NYPD), and the local fire department.

Planning for the convention's security began with the bid process about a year and a half ago. USSI specializes in event security, and its three principals--J. Peter Rush, Gerald T. Vento, and John R. Smith--all had prior convention experience. Rush and Smith are both retired Secret Service agents, and Vento is a former special assistant to the President.

Planning officially began in the fall of 1991. USSI first met with the NYPD and Secret Service, according to Rush.

A problem arose immediately concerning who would provide the convention security inside Madison Square Garden. Rush wanted to hire a contract security firm, but the Garden's specific union rules mandated that USSI use a union--local 177.

"We were forced to use a union," Rush says, "It was not an optimal situation, mainly because they failed to provide adequate personnel." In the end, Rush estimates that he had an average of 220 individuals on hand per day.

Security began outside the building. "We had an outer perimeter," Rush explains. "We had an entire city block--from 31st to 33rd Streets and from 7th to 8th Avenues--cordoned off with security barricades." A complex pass, printed and distributed by the Democratic National Committee, allowed media, security personnel, delegates, guests, and Garden employees inside the barricades.

The NYPD had authority over the area outside the Garden, but the complex pass only allowed access up to the outside of the building. A separate pass was needed to enter the building itself. For example, while more than 20,000 passes were issued to media people alone, 5,000 of those individuals weren't allowed inside the Garden.

To protect the building itself, "we had seven exits covered by magnetometers and X-ray equipment," Rush says. The exits were staffed by Secret Service personnel along with Garden security personnel. The Explosive Ordnance Division of the US Army and NYPD bomb squads were also on hand.

Rush estimates that there were between 30,000 and 35,000 people inside the Garden at any one time during the four days of the convention. "The Secret Service added additional personnel when Clinton and Gore were inside Madison Square Garden," he says. "They also tightened up security along the motorcade and at the podium."

And, since telephone security and sabotage had been a problem at past conventions, the entire phone board was secured. A team from the phone company was present throughout the convention in case of sabotage.

A designated demonstration area was blocked off on 8th Avenue to accommodate the demonstrators that usually accompany a political convention, "but it was never filled to capacity," Rush says. Security expected and was prepared for more situations, but they never materialized.

"The main demonstration was on Tuesday |the second day of the convention~ in Times Square," Rush says. About 40,000 AIDS activists gathered in the square, and eventually about 3,000 members of the group Act-Up started marching toward Madison Square Garden. But they were stopped short of their destination by NYPD forces.

Since the convention is planned and known about for years ahead of time and so many different people are involved, an individual or group would have ample time to plan a sabotage event. To address that concern, the main subcontractors involved in preparing the Garden for the convention were screened. Prior to the convention, the Secret Service watched the construction crews for signs of suspicious activity.

Two days before the convention began, the building was cleared and thoroughly searched by the Secret Service. After that time, anyone entering the building had to pass to clear the X-ray equipment. Large packages that didn't fit through the X-ray machine were inspected by the NYPD bomb squad. In addition, the podium area was thoroughly searched each day.

The main problems at the 1992 Democratic National Convention were primarily minor incidents and access control, according to Rush. "We collected about 20 counterfeit tickets," he explains. These were for the most part amateur jobs done on color copiers. Rush says the individuals trying to get in on counterfeit tickets were generally "people who just wanted to get in and see what was going on." A group of people wearing antiabortion T-shirts also tried to gain access with fake tickets, possibly to disrupt events.

"All in all, we had far fewer incidents than we expected," says Rush. "From a security perspective, it went extremely well."
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Security Spotlight
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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