With security concerns dominating the news of the upcoming Olympics in Russia, local law enforcement officials said the outlook would be markedly different if Boston hosted the Summer Games in 2024.
“We are probably better suited than any other place in the country to work in this coordinated fashion,” retired Boston police commissioner Edward F. Davis told a special commission studying the feasibility of hosting the international games on Tuesday at the State House.
Davis noted the joint federal and state fusion centers and the state’s history of hosting sports championships and the 2004 Democratic National Convention, a national special security event, where — as would be the case with the Olympics — the US Secret Service managed the security.
The lead-up to games in Sochi has been marked by civil rights concerns over a Russian law limiting expressions of homosexuality and security worries heightened by suicide bombings targeting public transportation in Volgograd, which is in the same region, over the fall and winter.
Located 200 miles from Chechnya and 250 miles from Dagestan, areas where the alleged Boston Marathon bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev have familial ties, Sochi is “the worst possible example” for comparisons with Boston, Davis told reporters.
“Having a low-level war occurring there over the last 20 years makes that unique, and I can’t see a scenario in the United States that would replicate that situation. However, our intelligence systems need to be working very closely together. The threat that comes out of the Caucasus really needs to be factored into anything that we do here in the United States,” said Davis, who added that a close working relationship between the FBI and Russia’s security force is important.
President Vladmir Putin said he has committed 40,000 police and special services officers to protect the games, which begin Feb. 7 and last through Feb. 23.
“The numbers have been increasing at Olympic Games over time, so we expect there will be thousands of security people here, but we’re not fighting a war 600 miles away,” Davis said.
Following the Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three spectators in April of last year, the security for the 26.2-mile event will be heightened. Davis said his successor, Commissioner William Evans, and state officials are focused on that issue.
“There’s going to be increases in surveillance,” Davis said. “There’s going to be increases in numbers; there’s going to be increases in cameras; there’s going to be a much different security posture next year than there was last year. We felt we were prepared for the threat, and we were prepared for the threat that we knew about. It was the unknown that caught us, and that’s really what you have to worry about.”
According to new reports, Russian authorities have been hunting for a widow of a militant. She is suspected of seeking to launch a suicide bombing around Sochi.
Asked whether he would feel safe going to the Olympics next month, Davis said he would go in defiance of any threat but would not want his family to go.
“I would personally go because I feel that we shouldn’t change our activities because of threats of terrorists,” Davis said. “I wouldn’t let my family go. I would advise my family against going there because of the unique situation they have right now.”
US Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was in Charlestown on Tuesday taking part in a student financial aid day, fielded questions about the possibility of the United States withdrawing from the Winter Games for security reasons.
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“I think we have legitimate security concerns. Let’s see what happens over the next few days about whether or not any of those concerns can be alleviated,” Warren said, adding, “Right now, it’s still an unfolding situation and we don’t have full information about what’s happening and whether they have adequate security in place.”
Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, a member of the special commission, reported that his analysis shows the state would have adequate police, federal officers, and private security to protect the games.
He also said he thinks the state would be able to train Olympic security forces adequately while maintaining other operations, adding it was too early to determine whether potential venues would be able to be adequately secured.