Police and event organizers are reviewing and in some cases boosting their security measures at music festivals, patriotic parades, heritage celebrations, and other large gatherings throughout the region after the Boston Marathon bombings.
In seaside communities and revitalized factory towns, these celebrations have long been viewed as a way to draw tourists and foster community spirit. But after the bombings, which killed three Marathon spectators and injured more than 260 people, many seriously, some officials are also wondering whether those events could be potential terrorist targets.
“It’s been weighing on my mind,” said Jim Murphy, chairman of Hingham’s Fourth of July Parade Committee. “We’re going to see what we need to do, and how we need to approach things.”
In the past, parade organizers were primarily concerned about ensuring that children didn’t run out onto the street and get hit by a float as they scooped up the thrown candy, Murphy said.
In Lowell, police are taking a closer look at security for the city’s popular folk festival in July and the Southeast Asian Water Festival in August, said Captain Kelly Richardson, a spokesman for the Police Department.
The free folk festival is among the biggest nationwide, and draws about 200,000 people to the former mill city.
Lowell will probably put additional officers on duty for these events and have more officers walking among the crowds, watching for any suspicious behavior, Richardson said.
The city will also rely on security cameras, he said.
“From here on, any large gathering of any group, we’re going to be vigilant,” Richardson said.
In Dedham, organizers of Sunday’s James Joyce Ramble, an annual 10K race that draws thousands of participants and spectators, warned visitors against leaving their belongings unattended and asked runners to stow any bags in their cars, since the traditional check-in service would be unavailable.
Officials in some other cities and towns are expecting robust discussions about security at large events, but said it’s still too early to talk about specifics.
The Somerville Police Department was still reeling last week from the death of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was allegedly killed by the bombing suspects. Collier had worked as a civilian on the Somerville force, and was due to return as an officer in June, said Deputy Chief Paul Upton.
The suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, are alleged to have set off two bombs near the Marathon finish line on April 15, fatally shot Collier on the MIT campus three days later, and then engaged in a gunfight with police in Watertown. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in the shoot-out, while his 19-year-old brother was captured on April 19 after a massive manhunt. He has been charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death, the US attorney’s office in Boston said.
Collier was remembered in a memorial service Wednesday that drew thousands of mourners, including Vice President Joe Biden, to MIT’s Briggs Field. And Thursday night, the city’s aldermen approved a proposal by Mayor Joseph Curtatone to seek permission from the Legislature to have Collier appointed to the Police Department posthumously.
Upton said the Somerville department has been focused on saying goodbye to Collier, but will reexamine its security measures at large events because of the bombings.
“Law enforcement and emergency management agencies are going to be taking a harder look at how we prepare for these things,” he said. “We’ve been pretty prepared.’’
In Salisbury, Police Chief Thomas Fowler said he expects his officers will get a debriefing and perhaps a lessons-learned exercise from Boston.
Salisbury has a Sand and Sea Festival in late June that draws roughly 5,000 people, Fowler said, and fireworks on the beach every Saturday night in the summer.
The best way to keep everybody safe is a strong partnership with the public, he said.
The town deploys police officers “to obviously make everyone feel safe, but our best ally is the public,” he said. “The saying, ‘If you see something, say something,’ is crucial because I can’t have officers everywhere all the time.”
Several area police officials said that while they intend to beef up security, they also want to make sure the public feels welcome at these gatherings.
“We don’t want to interfere with people having a good time,” Lowell’s Richardson said.
And in smaller communities, police said there is a limit to their resources.
In Hingham, almost the entire 50-man police force is on duty for the July Fourth festivities, helping to direct traffic and monitor the parade route, said Glenn Olsson, the department’s deputy chief.
Searching backpacks and strollers or adding security cameras isn’t realistic, he said.
“It’s such an open event, it’s pretty hard to regulate,” Olsson said. “You worry about those things, but there’s [only] so much you have the facilities to do.”
Gerry McMorrow, owner of the Scituate Music Center and the concert organizer for the town’s annual Heritage Days Festival, said communities shouldn’t overreact after the Boston bombings.
He said he briefly worried whether the bombings meant that organizers should worry about more than just rowdy individuals and petty thieves, and increase security. But he said the event has no political significance, and the community can’t live in fear.
“I’m not going to forget, but it’s not going to dominate my thinking,” McMorrow said. “If this type of incident became commonplace and routine, anybody who is running any event would have to look at how they run an event. . . Hopefully that is a long way off.”