Police ready for all kinds of mayhem

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 24, 2008 - 8:47 AM

Be prepared is the motto of agencies in charge of handling protesters, who don't like the restrictions.

DENVER - The security command center looks like a room straight out of a Hollywood thriller -- its long rows of tables set with phones and laptops, flat screens on the walls with zooming satellite images of downtown Denver.

It's a 24-hour nerve center for command-level authorities keeping a watchful eye over security for this week's Democratic National Convention. If protesters -- or anyone -- tries anything unlawful, leaders of 62 agencies ranging from the Secret Service to the city's waste department will be watching and responding.

Convention host cities can plan for the traffic, the parties and the speeches that come with 6,000 politically charged delegates and 15,000 deadline-stressed media.

But until protesters show up, local authorities -- like those in St. Paul preparing for next week's Republican National Convention -- don't know exactly what to expect. So they prepare for everything.

"Anything that could possibly happen is talked about in the advance plan," said Malcolm Wiley of the Secret Service, the lead security agency.

Protest groups have been vocal about plans for civil disobedience for months here, writing on blogs and sometimes speaking with reporters.

The Denver City Council passed an ordinance earlier this month prohibiting people from carrying noxious substances, as well as tools such as chains and padlocks that could be used to chain themselves together to stop traffic.

As in St. Paul, the federal government granted Denver $50 million to beef up security, and the city has organized a permitting process for marching routes and defined specific "public viewing areas" for demonstrators.

In Denver, that area that authorities say is roughly 50,000 square-feet outside the Pepsi Center, is surrounded on three sides by two layers of 8-foot-tall metal fences.

The space cuts into the curve of the security perimeter, allowing the public closer access, officials say.

But protesters have taken to calling it a "freedom cage." While it may be closer to the convention site than the nearest unblocked street, only the very top dome of the Pepsi Center can be seen. A large white tent housing media obstructs most of the view.

"I can't see anything," said Bruce Berry, a Vietnam veteran and Veterans for Peace marcher from Minneapolis, who went to the Pepsi Center area Saturday to see how things were set up. "It's good to see that the space is here. There could be nothing ... but it's just a crumb."

A court hearing is scheduled in St. Paul Monday on a suit by protest groups challenging similar restrictions around the Xcel Energy Center during the GOP convention.

Ready for major arrests

In Denver, protest groups have predicted between 10,000 to 50,000 demonstrators.

Unconventional Denver, a self-described anarchist group, said on a flier that leaders are planning direct actions -- disrupting convention events, keeping delegates from attending the sessions and other tactics. They have similar plans for St. Paul.

Denver police have received 30 hours of training in tactics designed to defuse problems.

"The civil disobedience is one of the heartier sections of our plans," Denver Police Lt. Ron Saunier said. "But on the same token, we're hoping to provide a safe and enjoyable event for this historic event that's happening here."

Police here will also be ready if the need arises for large-scale arrests. A warehouse has been converted to a temporary processing center where paperwork on those arrested will be completed. Protesters have called the warehouse an unnecessary fear-mongering tool. They have dubbed it "Gitmo on the Platte" referring to the Platte River that runs through town.

As in St. Paul, court staffs will be available to work beyond normal business hours, authorities said.

Saunier hopes the authorities are bored. "You've always got to plan for the worst and hope for the best."

Staff Writer Randy Furst contributed to this report Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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