On the first Halloween since the Boston Marathon bombings in April, Salem police plan to leave little to chance as they prepare for tens of thousands of costumed revelers in the Witch City.
Extra security cameras will be trained on downtown streets, where most dance parties, costume contests, a carnival, and other events are planned as part of the city’s Haunted Happenings celebration.
Canine units will make additional sweeps, sniffing for bombs, drugs, and other threats to public safety on the city’s brick-and-cobblestone streets. Salem, which for years has relied on help from county, state, and federal policing agencies, will have the usual complement of about 200 police officers on duty.
The city’s top tourism leader thinks the extra electronic eyes and K-9 units will enhance — not detract from — the spooky fun.
“It won’t dampen the celebration,” said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem, the city’s tourism agency. “Visitors are looking for it. They want to feel safe.”
There is always a lot of collaboration among the federal, state, and local agencies that goes on that night. But I don’t think the average person coming to Halloween is going to see anything different in regard to an overt police response.’
Police Captain Brian Gilligan said most visitors probably won’t notice a difference, since for years Salem has relied on electronic surveillance and more than 200 uniformed and undercover police to patrol on Halloween night.
“There is always a lot of collaboration among the federal, state, and local agencies that goes on that night,” said Gilligan, who oversees Halloween security. “But I don’t think the average person coming to Halloween is going to see anything different in regard to an overt police response.”
Still, the Marathon bombings, which left three dead and injured hundreds more, factored into Salem’s security strategy.
“I view what happened in Boston as a very, very unfortunate reminder that you have to be extremely vigilant,” Gilligan said.
Salem took a step toward fine-tuning its Halloween preparedness in June.
A training exercise aboard an MBTA commuter train — planned long before the Marathon — tested emergency workers’ response to a potential disaster on the city’s busiest day for tourism.
The event — conducted as part of a federal railway safety requirement — simulated a small fireworks explosion on a train traveling through a tunnel to Salem. A smoke machine filled the car with thick vapor. Passengers feigned injuries, and all were evacuated.
The drill helped police and fire personnel measure their response to a transportation event involving a large group on Halloween, Gilligan said.
“We had that already planned, because, in my opinion, an incident or an accident on the train is something we need to be prepared to deal with,” Gilligan said. “A ton of people take public transportation to Salem.”
Salem is preparing for 50,000 to 100,000 visitors on Halloween, Fox said.
Policing a downtown filled with thousands dressed in masks, black capes, and other spooky attire poses a different security challenge than a venue such as Fenway Park, where Game 7 of the World Series may be played on Halloween.
“The whole point of Halloween is to come in costume,” Fox said. “It’s not the type of event where we can say ‘only bring clear plastic bags and no backpacks.’ ”
The MBTA has added extra trains to Salem for this weekend and on Halloween, with schedules posted on its website, MBTA.com.
Train travel to Salem also can have an impact in Beverly, where police expect an influx of travelers headed to the big costume party next door. “We get a lot of people who drive here, and get on the train to go to Salem,” said Officer Mike Boccuzzi, a department spokesman.
The department does not discuss security strategies, but police will keep a watchful eye on visitors headed to Salem, he added.
“We will monitor commuter rail traffic throughout the night,” Boccuzzi said.
Elsewhere, other communities also are planning to add extra police patrols to deal with more typical Halloween high jinks, and keep trick-or-treaters safe.
On Cape Ann, communities have set trick-or-treating hours from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., said Gloucester Police Chief Len Campanello.
“A lot of chiefs have made that the official hours,” said Campanello, who noted his department will also have extra officers on duty. “That will be just to address any of the childlike mayhem, like shaving cream. . . . But we haven’t received any indication that this year’s Halloween will be any different than any other.”
Somerville, which has a large college-age population, will have 25 volunteer crossing guards at busy intersections, and 20 to 30 reserve police officers patrolling in cruisers, said Deputy Police Chief Michael Cabral.
“They’ll keep an eye on different parks and schools, to make sure there’s no shaving cream or egg throwing,” he said.
In Malden, where downtown businesses will hold trick-or-treating from 3 to 5 p.m., anticrime officers will hit city parks after dark, said Lieutenant Marc Gatcomb, the department spokesman.
“They’ll travel throughout the city, hitting up hot spots,” Gatcomb said. “We generally recommend kids go out in the early evening.”
Amesbury Police will be on motorcycles, armed with treats.
“We’ll probably load them up with lollipops. The kids get a big kick out of that,” said Officer Thomas Hanshaw, the department’s crime prevention officer. “But we’re really out there to make sure the cars go slow. There’s a lot of pedestrian traffic out that night in the neighborhoods.”