Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Police: Security will be minor hassle- More than 600 security personnel to blanket area

Law enforcement officials insist that the more than 600 security personnel scheduled to be in Tempe for tomorrow's presidential debate will not have an impact on students.

ASU police Cmdr. John Sutton said police are not very interested in interfering with students.

"The biggest impact is going to be some inconveniences related to the debate," Sutton said. "The main thing is to allow some extra time to get where you need to go."

Secret Service

Special Agent Chuck Wolford, in charge of Secret Service for the districts of Arizona and New Mexico, said he didn't expect any student issues except for traffic problems.

Wolford said the Secret Service has always been charged with the protection of the president and any persons the president deems warrants their protection.

Wolford said Senators John Kerry and John Edwards, their families and some staff members qualify for protection.

"Our key role has been as a coordinator between the different local and federal law enforcement agencies," Wolford said. "The closer one gets to the protectee the more the Secret Service is involved.

"When you start looking at the inner and outer perimeters of an event you will see other agencies come into play."

While he would not give specifics about staffing levels or tactical assignments, Wolford denied rumors that there would be snipers on buildings around campus.

"We will have people on rooftops with binoculars looking for anything unusual," he added.

Wolford said federal agencies like the FBI and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency will be part of a collective federal intelligence gathering effort.

"At this time we haven't seen any indications of a terrorist attack from an intelligence standpoint," he said. "But we are well prepared for anything."

Sky Harbor International Airport spokesperson Julie Rodriguez said commercial flights would only briefly be restricted from landing while Air Force One is landing.

She said the delay would likely take a few minutes as the president's flight is given priority to land.

Wolford said the Secret Service had issued a notice to airmen clearing all private air traffic around the debate site, but commercial flights would not be affected.

Wolford also said the Phoenix police will be escorting the motorcades for Bush and Kerry, but he would not divulge their routes to Gammage because of security concerns.

Local police

ASU police will be coordinating the various law enforcement groups from a forward command center at Tempe High School located at 1730 S. Mill Ave.

Tempe police Sgt. Dan Masters said ASU and Tempe police would be joined by horseback police from Scottsdale and Phoenix and added that Gilbert police would help with traffic security.

Masters also said the explosive ordinance disposal unit would be using bomb sniffing canines and robot detection systems.

The 91st Civil Support Team of the Air National Guard will also be in Tempe monitoring air quality to detect any biological weapons Masters said.

Civil rights concerns

During the weeks leading to the debate, some students voiced concern about being searched while taking pictures of Gammage Auditorium.

Wolford said it would be neglectful for a law enforcement officer to not investigate such activity.

Sutton agreed and said he hoped that an officer observing someone taking pictures of the site would go over and politely ask them what they were doing.

"It's a situation where we need to ask the question and find out what's going on," he said.

"We know that terrorists do their homework when they make their plans," Sutton added.

Sutton said if the students were not doing anything wrong, officers would only take a minute of their time and nothing else.

Eleanor Eisenberg, the executive director of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that such activities intruded on the rights of citizens.

"We see that as an absolute infraction of peoples' rights unless police have clear evidence," Eisenberg said.

Eisenberg said she would be holding a "Know Your Rights" forum tonight at 5 at the Gentle Strength Co-op located at 234 W. University Drive to help prepare Tempe residents for the debate.

"Unfortunately, at this point we would advise people around the debate site to obey police orders," Eisenberg said.

She said in most situations there would only be a moment for demonstrators to decide whether or not what officers are asking them to do is legal or in violation of their right to free speech and peaceful assembly.

"If they [demonstrators] don't want to be arrested they would be best off if they complied," Eisenberg said.

Sutton said demonstrators would enjoy their constitutional right to free speech as long as they are peacefully doing so.

"There is going to be a Speaker's Corner set up on the [Student Recreation Complex] fields with a platform and a [public address] system," Sutton said. "It will be an area for people to get their message out if they want to protest."

He said people would maintain the right to be by the Gammage security fence, as long as their actions do not break any laws.

"If officers observe people breaking the law, then they would have to take appropriate action," he added.

Sutton said the University's Emergency Operations Center would be operational during the day of the debate. The center, however, would not be activated unless ASU President Michael Crow or his designated representative orders it.

In such an emergency the police command post at Tempe High School would then be directed by key University officials at the EOC, Sutton said.

Law enforcement agencies also have been doing their homework on groups they expect to see protest this week, Sutton said.

"We know what types of tactics that certain groups employ," he said. "We do know that groups like the anarchists will mingle with other groups and get them charged up to act in ways they wouldn't normally act."

Sutton said disruptive groups have been known to fling urine and paint-filled jugs onto police.

Masters said there would be several hundred mobile field force squad officers from various East Valley agencies on call to respond if necessary to a violent protest.

"These officers are equipped with less-than-lethal ammunition including gas, ballistic shields and batons in the event of a worst-case scenario," Masters said.

Masters said police are equipped to handle a large amount of violent protesters.

"We have solicited support from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and we will have the use of several city-size buses to transport and book anyone who is arrested," Masters said.

Eisenberg said there would likely be arrests because of the constraints placed on protesters.

"America used to be thought of as a free speech zone," she said. "Now it's a cage or a lawn."

Reach the reporter at mark.saxon@asu.edu.

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