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Local police, event organizers mull post-bombing security

In the days following the Boston Marathon attack, bomb-sniffing dogs were deployed at large public events throughout Newton, from a vigil at City Hall to an Israel Independence Day celebration at a Jewish temple in Chestnut Hill.

Nothing was found by the dogs, but Police Chief Howard Mintz said the searches were needed, given what happened at the Marathon’s finish line.

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“We had folks with pressure-cooker bombs out there,” said Mintz. “And I wasn’t going to take a gamble.”

The capture late last week of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and the death of his brother and alleged collaborator, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, in a shoot-out with police, have eased much of the region’s anxiety, but police in area communities said the attack will likely influence security at public gatherings.

“It’s certainly going to be on the forefront of our discussions,” said Lexington Police Captain Manuel Ferro, who handles security for large events, including annual Patriots Day observances that draw as many as 7,500 visitors. “How it’s going to play out, I don’t know.”

Lexington police and town officials are evaluating event security for sites such as the Battle Green. Last week, the town’s selectmen temporarily suspended all rally permits for the Battle Green, including a previously planned gun-rights rally.

Lexington police couldn’t rely on backup support from other law-enforcement agencies, which were busy last week with the Marathon investigation and other events, and recommended the cancellation of public events like the rally, Ferro said.

The Board of Selectmen is slated to review that decision at a meeeting next week, Ferro said.

In Newton, at least for the next few months, police will likely tighten security at some events, including July Fourth celebrations, Mintz said.

“Large events, we are going to look at closely,” Mintz said, especially if the event or the day could have some significance to potential terrorists.

Still, some event organizers faced life after the Marathon bombing with New England stoicism, and said they have no plans to increase security, partly because they think they already have enough.

Waltham’s Watch City Festival, set for May 10-12, could draw 20,000 people, said organizer Elln Hagney, executive director of the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation.

“We don’t see any reason to change our security,” she said. “We are meeting as we do every year with the police and fire department to go over what our expectations are,’’ and where public safety details will be positioned.

The biggest concerns at the festival, which is spread across 20 venues, is someone getting hit by a car or falling into the river, said Hagney.

“You always do everything you can to protect people, but at the same time you can’t live your life in fear,” she said. “You do the best you can do.”

The festival is a steampunk event, which means it celebrates certain meldings of past with present in design, clothing, music, and movies, said Hagney. She said, as always, people should keep an eye out for anything unusual or suspicious, but beyond that she just hopes people have a good time taking in the spectacle.

“We’re not going to change,” said Hagney. “We just have to live our lives.”

Nancy Nelson is superintendent of Minute Man National Historical Park, which hosts major events around Patriots Day. The largest, on the Saturday before the Monday holiday, draws up to 6,000 people for a reenactment of the skirmishes that marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

“We are very cautious with large events because there are always things that can happen when you have a lot of people together,” said Nelson.

The park, which covers parts of Concord, Lincoln, and Lexington, already uses several law enforcement agencies for major events, including the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office, local police departments, and its own rangers, said Nelson. And medical assistance is available.

There are no plans to change anything at this point, she said. But organizers will follow the news of the Marathon investigation to see whether there are lessons to be learned that would apply at the park.

Police and event organizers said they want to ensure these celebrations, which are an intrinsic part of life in area communities, remain secure but ­also open and family oriented.

Ferro said he doesn’t see a need to check the bags of visitors who come to Lexington for the Patriots Day celebrations.

“It’s one that’s family oriented, it’s a celebration, it’s not one we want to create a police state,” Ferro said.

Michelle Ciccolo, a Lexington resident who is the director of Hudson’s Department of Community Development, said celebrations bring residents together, and cities and towns should be wary of changing the atmosphere too drastically.

They “are so important for our sense of place and who we are. If we were to modify or discontinue these events, we’d erode the quality of life in our communities,” Ciccolo said.

“You see acts of terrorism conducted by people who don’t have a connection to the community,” she said. “So one way we can prevent this is to increase and bolster social and community activities. Because when people have a strong sense of community, they’re far less likely to commit heinous crimes.”

Mintz said police will have to evaluate whether a greater security presence in response to the bombings is appropriate.

“We don’t want to change our lifestyle and opportunities for recreation because of a deranged individual,” Mintz said. “On the other hand, the public might have to be somewhat inconvenienced more than they were years ago.”

Correspondent Nancy Shohet West contributed to this report.
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