Out-of-Town Deputies, Smaller Crowds Smooth Inauguration Security Efforts
The Secret Service, Capitol Police, National Park Service and Washington Metropolitan Police Department worked with more than 2,600 additional police officers from departments as far away as Oregon on Monday to pull off one of the largest and most significant crowd-control events that many of them will ever see: the inauguration ceremony of a U.S. president.
Such coordination, as well as a smaller turnout for this year’s ceremony compared with President Barack Obama’s first one in 2009, made the event less daunting, and the day went smoothly except for some minor crowd-control snafus for orange ticket holders and delays on the Metro system, which aren’t particularly unfamiliar for D.C.-area commuters.
“You got cowboy hats and motorcycle leather boots, and you got sheriffs’ departments and highway patrol,” MPD Chief Cathy Lanier said. “Part of the pride of having these officers here is having them wear their own department uniform.” The gig is an honor for out-of-town officers, most of whom are assigned to the parade route or inaugural balls.
The group was sworn in during a training session Sunday, not long after Obama took his own oath of office at the White House.
Cincinnati Police Officer Diondre Winstead said the work Monday wouldn’t be very different from his usual job, but the pressure is on.
“Now it’s just more important that we have the president of the United States to protect as well as the citizens of the Washington, D.C., area,” Winstead said.
Standing stiff in a sea of blue, gray, green and brown, officers swore to perform the duties of a special deputy United States marshal, meaning they can lawfully make arrests in the District.
MPD spokesman Araz Alali said that during the inauguration, the MPD made no arrests. He said a surplus of officers, including members of the National Guard, were a big help.
Minneapolis Police Sgt. Timothy Mattsson said Sunday that he expected smaller crowds to make the job much easier than four years ago.
“Once we’re stationed, it’s going to be fairly simple,” Mattsson said. “The barricades are in place; we’re just going to make sure nobody crosses.”
One group of police officers from Texas had never heard of the last inauguration’s infamous “Purple Tunnel of Doom,” where 1,000 ticketed attendees were stuck in the Third Street Tunnel and missed the ceremony.
Asked what they would tell the president if they saw him, Brazos County Deputy Sheriff Edward Frank said seriously: “We have a job to do.”
“If he comes to me, it’s ‘yes sir, no sir,” Brazos Deputy Sheriff Shane Moynihan added.
While out-of-town officers were preparing for the parade Monday morning, orange ticket holders were frustrated by long security waits at the Capitol. Some who arrived at 7 a.m. were shepherded behind a large fenced-off traffic circle, only to see law enforcement officers allow latecomers to pile into the previously closed area in front of them. Many were told earlier in the day that the streets in the traffic circle were reserved for access by emergency vehicles.
But around 10:15 a.m., officials opened the area, trapping many visitors already in the crowd behind those who arrived much later.
Dozens of ticket holders jumped the barricade. Hundreds of others walked back to the entry gate and waited until they were allowed into a mostly empty plot of grass much closer to the stage.
“Somebody made the decisions that we’re just going to put people in the middle of the street,” Capitol Police Officer Willie Ragland explained to ticket holders.
“Tickets make no difference anymore,” Ragland said, adding that all ticketed areas had been full since 8:30 a.m.
“It seems kind of unfair,” said Jill Zipin, who was directed behind the barricades. “We have orange tickets, and there’s all that [empty] space over there for orange ticket holders.”
Some estimated the orange gates were closed for two hours before the traffic circle was opened up. Others were told the section was at capacity.
“Whoever was controlling how many people were in different areas didn’t properly assess whether they were full,” said Nicholas Miller of Detroit.
Alali acknowledged the problem but could not give an explanation. “We are striving to minimize inconveniences at all check points,” Alali said. “But any security effort of this magnitude will inevitably have unexpected delays.”
Law enforcement reported few other problems. Just before midnight on the eve of the inauguration, Alali said members of a group of about 50 anti-government protesters in Chinatown smashed windows at a bank and a Hooters restaurant and broke an ATM screen.
Crowd estimates ranged from 600,000 to 800,000 people Monday, compared with about 1.8 million in 2009, easing the way for most ticket holders.
“Security was actually excellent,” said Joel Parrish of New Jersey. “I think that D.C. was a little more ready this year than they were four years ago.”
Exiting the inauguration was much easier — at least until crowds reached the Metro lines that stretched outside stations.
Stations at L’Enfant Plaza, Federal Center SW, Foggy Bottom and Metro Center were all closed for a period of time because of crowding. Metro alerts continued to urge travelers to walk to a station on the same line as their destination, to avoid transferring or to avoid using the service at all. “Maybe you want to grab lunch before starting your return?” one tweet from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority suggested.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Jill Zipin.