EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 21, 2013

Police rethink security at outdoor events, amid obstacles


Boston and state police did not return phone calls Friday seeking to learn how they might upgrade security at next year’s marathon and similar outdoor events. Spokesmen said they were focused on the massive manhunt for the last suspect still at-large, which ended under the shrinkwrap of a boat parked in a Watertown backyard late that night.

In Lawrence, Police Chief John Romero said fully securing many outdoor places where large numbers of people concentrate is impossible given the logistics, the delays that would occur by screening everyone and the ingrained cultural expectation in the United States that living in a free country means free access.

The biggest challenge may be the wide-open subway systems in major municipalities that admit millions of people daily with just the swipe of a card, Romero said. In New York, where Romero was a precinct commander and deputy inspector before coming to Lawrence, subways provide 5.4 million rides every workday.

In Boston, when the MBTA was shut for most of the day on Friday in an historic first for the region as the search for a suspect in the marathon bombing intensified, local riders got an idea of what happens when terror disrupts a far-flung urban mass transit system.

“There’s no way you can efficiently search everyone coming through,” Romero said about transit systems. “The impact on rush hour would be (unacceptable). You can make periodic stops, but you’re not going to be able to check every person. You’re limited in what you can do.”

Boston’s transit system is not nearly so sprawling or heavily traveled as the one Romero helped protect in New York, and its schedule of prominent outdoor public events is much less crammed. But from the marathon in April to the fireworks on the Common in July to the Head of the Charles regatta in November, few weekends pass in Boston without a major event, many with international allure.

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