Security glitch slows early arrivals at Democratic convention

Security officials say they are equipped to handle an influx of attendees on Monday.

DENVER -- Security for the Democratic National Convention got off to an inauspicious start Saturday as news media and convention staff endured an hours-long bottleneck at the single gate, manned by the Secret Service and the Denver police, allowing entry into the secured area around the Pepsi Center.

The problems were solved after a few hours at the 9th Street entrance and the lines shortened to about five minutes by 3:30 pm. But as the police and the media traded blame for the snafu, it wasn't clear whether the incident presaged future problems.

Malcolm Wiley, spokesman for the Secret Service, said that security officials unwisely chose to channel news media, many carrying large amounts of electronic equipment, through the same three metal detectors that were being used to clear official DNC staff. "Once we determined that this was happening, we were able to separate out the DNC staff and things moved much more smoothly," Wiley said.

Not quickly enough for some DNC workers. Even those with important jobs awaiting them inside the center couldn't seem to figure out a way in. "We're the people who built the whole [voting] system, so if they were trying to vote right now, it wouldn't work," said one staff member waiting in the security line on Auraria Parkway who asked to remain anonymous.

Three other DNC staffers who had waited a few minutes at the back of the intimidating line at the 9th Street gate--which looked like it would take hours to work through--heard a rumor that the gate by the Pepsi Center light rail stop had opened, so they walked about 30 minutes to get there. But there they were turned away because they had electronics that the sole police officer manning that checkpoint said she didn't have time to check. They, and many others, were ejected to nearby Elitch Gardens and told to walk around the entire convention complex.

What did the DNC staffers plan to do from there? They just weren't sure whether it was worth the trek back to the 9th Street gate. "They should have planned better," said one. "The whole convention has been like this."

Part of the problem was that media people had been advised that the convention area would be closed until noon for a security sweep, when the sweep actually ended by 10 a.m. "We were here for an hour or two and no one showed up," said one police sergeant at the gate. "Then they all came at the same time."

Wiley said that security officials had ample numbers of personnel and metal detectors to deal with the large increase of convention-goers expected on Monday. "We had a minor problem, and we dealt with it," he said.

Ashley Johnson contributed to this report.

For full coverage of the Democratic National Convention, go to NationalJournal.com.

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