Originally Published: December 26, 2017 6:01 a.m.
The cost of expanding security for Prescott’s recent Christmas events: $9,128.
The value, according to the Prescott Police Department: Peace of mind.
The City of Prescott recently compiled costs for additional event-security measures, including officers stationed on downtown rooftops, traffic barricades, and increased bicycle-officer coverage.
For the Dec. 2 Prescott Christmas Parade, the total came to $5,210, while added security for the Courthouse Lighting later that night totaled $1,748. And for Acker Night on Dec. 8, the additional security cost was $2,170.
Still to come will be costs for added coverage at the New Year’s Eve Boot Drop on Whiskey Row.
Prescott Police Chief Debora Black says the reaction from people who have attended the events has been largely positive.
“Almost 10 out of 10 were supportive,” Black said recently. While she did hear from a few people who “thought it was too much,” Black said, “There were many, many more positive reactions to this.”
In two news releases before the events, Black emphasized that the added security measures were being done as a preventative measure only, and not based on any specific threat.
Still, she said, “a very persistent rumor” circulated throughout the community that the additional security was prompted by a police department stop of someone who had intended to come to Prescott to disrupt the events.
Black said the rumor had no basis in truth. Her response: “No, that did not happen; nothing like that happened.”
Rather, Black said she opted for the additional security because of events such as the early-October Las Vegas shooting, and late-October vehicle attack in New York City.
Lt. Jon Brambila, who recently completed FBI police leadership training in Quantico, Virginia, said past terrorist events have helped local officers to focus in on suspicious behavior.
“They were looking for things we’ve seen across the world,” he said. For instance: “Large vehicles that run through venues.”
Basically, Brambila said officers were on the lookout for “Anything that looked out of place.”
Brambila used the example of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. In the debriefing after that attack, he said it was obvious from security footage that the two bombers were not at the event to watch the marathon.
Black added that debriefings from past events often frame the training for officers. “This is how we learn; this is how we protect,” she said.
Officers guarding the Prescott events were looking for “anybody who stood different,” Black said, adding, “It’s behavior-based, not appearance-based.”
That scrutiny led to one alert at the Prescott Christmas Parade. Black noted that officers spotted a vehicle driving slowly through a downtown alley as the parade was getting underway.
While the slightly unusual behavior raised a red flag, when bicycle officers arrived, it became apparent that the vehicle was carrying a family looking for a last-minute parking spot.
Security as a culture
Steve Hooper, assistant professor in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s College of Security and Intelligence and a 30-year veteran with the FBI (the last seven as special agent in charge of counter-terrorism in Phoenix), says the security measures should go beyond law enforcement.
“I think the key piece to security is ‘security as a culture’ – where everybody is kind of on guard,” Hooper said.
For instance, he suggests that businesses should have a plan and policy in place that give employees guidelines on how to respond to suspicious activities.
“All employees should understand what the plan is,” Hooper said.
That could have helped change the course in recent tragedies such as the 2016 shoo ting at a nightclub in Orlando and the Las Vegas shooting.
In Orlando, Hooper noted that a single off-duty officer was stationed at the front door. “Was one enough? And did they really take a look at the ‘what if?’” he said.
In Las Vegas, a policy at the Mandalay Bay hotel might have prompted an employee to search the multiple bags that shooter Stephen Paddock was bringing into the hotel, Hooper said.
“A policy gives employees a comfort level,” he said.
Another part of the policy should involve partnerships, Hooper said. “The day of a bad event shouldn’t be the first day” that a business owner meets community law enforcement officers, he said. “It is all in the preparation; it’s all in the relationships beforehand.”
More permanent barriers?
For the recent downtown events, the city has used temporary barriers such as large sanitation trucks and water-filled barricades to block the main intersections.
But Black expects discussions to occur soon on the possibility of installing more permanent barriers – similar to the bollards that were installed at both ends of Whiskey Row in 2015.
That year, the city paid about $20,000 for the installation of 18 removable bollards and traffic-rated sleeves for the block of South Montezuma. During events such as the Boot Drop, the bollards are used to prevent a vehicle from crashing through the crowd.
“Whenever we close down Montezuma (the bollards) are very helpful and a very good investment,” Black said. “One thing I’ll be talking to city leadership about – do we expand that?”
She and Brambila said bollards on streets such as Gurley, Cortez, Goodwin, and Carleton could be helpful for future events. “It’s an investment up-front, but then that’s it,” Black said.
She stressed, however, that bollards would be a street-department project, and the discussion on the cost and feasibility has yet to get started.
Still, for “unsecured” events such as the Christmas Parade and the Courthouse Lighting, Black says hard barricades are the best way to protect against a vehicle crash. “One of the greatest threats I saw was a vehicle,” she said.