Security to be tight at Washington July Fourth celebration
Park Police leading effort to keep the nation’s largest Independence Day event incident-free in wake of thwarted U.K. plot.
The U.S. Park Police is working with more than 20 other law enforcement agencies to keep the estimated 500,000 visitors to the National Mall in Washington safe this Fourth of July, following the recent airport attack and two thwarted car bombs in the United Kingdom.
Agencies are on alert following the incidents in London and Glasgow, said Dwight Pettiford, chief of the Park Police, during a press conference Monday.
"Anytime we see something like what happened abroad, it quite naturally brings it to a heightened level for us in the law enforcement community," Pettiford said.
Pettiford echoed recent Homeland Security Department statements that there are no direct, credible threats against the United States at this time. But he said he recognizes the general risk to Washington on the Fourth of July.
"We realize we have a really rich target environment," Pettiford said.
Pettiford said security will look much as it has in past years, but behind-the-scenes improvements have been made. He also said all Park Police officers have had terrorism training and employees at non-law enforcement agencies have been asked to keep their eyes and ears open for anything suspicious.
While there is no Homeland Security Department-mandated increase in security for Fourth of July events, DHS is advising and supporting various agencies in their own efforts, DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said Monday. Pettiford said he is in daily contact with Homeland Security to discuss issues relating to the Washington celebration.
The most visible element of the Washington Fourth of July security will be screening checkpoints and road closures. Everyone entering the National Mall and various other viewing areas in Washington and Virginia will have to go through one of these 20-plus checkpoints.
"You just can't walk into this event," Pettiford said. "We're setting up screening tents. Some of these locations you can walk through easily if you don't have a cooler or anything, but if you do, someone will look in it."
The National Park Service has published a complete list of checkpoint locations and road closures.
While Pettiford would not discuss the exact number of law enforcement officers who will be present for the event, he said there will be a large police presence with officers on foot, horseback, bicycles and helicopters.
"It's all hands on deck for the Fourth of July," he said.
Following the two foiled London car bombs, Washington law enforcement officials are taking special care to keep vehicles away from crowded areas. As always, there will be no cars allowed in the immediate vicinity of the National Mall. Also, Pettiford said the Park Police and other agencies will strictly enforce the rule against parking along the George Washington Parkway.
"We'll make the best effort we can, along with other law enforcement agencies, to keep the traffic moving," he said. "We're also asking the public to take the responsibility and not be part of that clogging process. We realize we have a very beautiful fireworks show, but the one thing we want to reiterate is what's safe."
Access to the National Mall will be available beginning at 10 a.m., with the grounds of the Capitol Building opening at 5 p.m. The Smithsonian Metro stop will be closed all day and the World War II Memorial will close at 4 p.m., as it is in the fireworks debris safety zone.
Despite any security concerns, Pettiford is encouraging people to come to the day's events.
"I'm hoping we have a record crowd," he said. "I think it's important that we establish to the world that we can proceed with our life without any changes."
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