State and local police are promising a massive presence on the Esplanade for the Fourth of July celebrations, including state troopers in bright yellow vests, hundreds of local police officers, and more security cameras.
Police announced Wednesday that there will be swarms of law enforcement personnel, more than in prior years, as they sought to reassure revelers they will be safe at the first major public event in Boston since the Marathon bombings.
“I want people to feel like this is a safe place to come,” State Police Colonel Timothy Alben said Wednesday morning. “My family is coming. I hope yours is, too.”
Alben and several other law enforcement officials spoke from a Unified Command Center to announce the final touches of their security plan for the Fourth. They asked the news media not to reveal the location of the center for public safety reasons.
Surveillance cameras will be mounted on trees and poles along the Esplanade and near the Hatch Shell, where the Boston Pops perform their annual concert. In addition, celebrants will be asked to act as the eyes and ears of police through digital monitors that will instruct them to text authorities tips of any suspicious activity.
Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said hundreds more Boston police officers will help patrol the area around the Esplanade. The department will also send out 55 graduates of the Boston Police Academy who were scheduled to graduate next Tuesday. The department swore them in a week early so they could be part of the increased police presence.
Davis said he will be splitting his attention between helping to secure the Esplanade and preventing gun violence that tends to plague neighborhoods within Boston, such as Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury, during the holiday.
“It’s going to be a very busy few days for us,” he said.
Over the last week, officials have made it clear that security around the Fourth events would be different than anything the public has ever seen. There will be three security checkpoints around the Hatch Shell and the Exeter Lagoon, the closure of the Massachusetts Avenue bridge, and bans on backpacks, coolers on wheels, cans, glass containers, pre-mixed beverages, liquids greater than 2 liters, and sharp objects.
The restrictions and anxiety around the event have caused some to say they may steer clear this year, but officials vowed that the festivities would be enjoyable for the public.
“These security measures should in no way detract” from the festivities, said Jack Murray, commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
At a separate event at the State House, Governor Deval Patrick said he expected it would be a great day.
“There’s obviously going to be a lot more law enforcement presence to help assure everybody’s safety and good time, and also comfort people,” he said. “I’ll be there myself and I’m looking forward to it.”
Alben declined to say how many troopers will be on the scene, or to provide the number of cameras.
He would only say there will be “an exponentially larger amount of cameras than ever before.” Most of them are meant to be visible so they can act as a deterrent, he said.
But should anyone commit a crime, police can use the cameras to reconstruct what happened, he said. The police and FBI relied on surveillance footage to track down the Marathon bombing suspects.
Asked how long the images recorded by the cameras could be stored, Alben said there is no policy set yet for the new cameras.
That is troubling, in the eyes of Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty at the American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts.
“In a democratic society, people should be able to understand very clearly how that information is going to be used and who is going to be able to access it,” Crockford said.
State Police spokesman David Procopio said officials plan to develop a policy but they did not want to delay implementing the cameras, which they had to rush to install in time for the Fourth celebrations.
“We were up against a deadline and we have a responsibility to protect visitors to the event,” he said.
Crockford disputed the theory that cameras may act as a deterrent for terrorist activity.
“Somebody intends to kill a bunch of people, surveillance cameras are not going to stop them,” Crockford said. But she said the ACLU does not object to cameras at a public event like the Pops concert and fireworks.
“A lot of poeple expect that if they go to the Esplanade, that they’re going to be monitored,” she said. “Putting cameras at an event like this is not the same as putting one on a street post in front of my house.”
Inside the Unified Command Center Wednesday, analysts and officers watched 10 large screens set up in the front of the room. Several showed surveillance footage of the Esplanade, where families pushed strollers and elderly couples walked hand in hand, largely unaware of the cameras trained on them.
The aggressive security is unlikely to be unique to the July Fourth celebrations, Alben said.
“That will be the norm for large events moving forward,” he said.
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