BOSTON, MA –This year’s Boston Marathon was the subject of unprecedented levels of policing. The 26.2 mile track from Hopkinton to Boston was enclosed in a “ring of steel” — where public streets were littered with checkpoints, cameras, and police dogs. Military helicopters whirred overhead as soldiers, federal agents, and local cops scrutinized anyone carrying a purse or a bag.
It has been reported that between 3,500 and 4,000 government agents saturated the area — double what was used at the race last year. This figure includes approximately 500 plainclothes agents dispersed throughout the crowd and 750 uniformed military personnel which are now being used to police the public.
Besides the military, the event has drawn in agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the New York Police Department, the New York State Police, the New Jersey State Police, the Massachusetts State Police, as well as more agencies from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, and others, according to NBC. Numerous SWAT teams were positioned on site.
An elaborate surveillance grid was constructed and coordinated from a sophisticated underground fusion center. ABC News reported that the command “bunker” contained 260 agents from 60 different state, local, and federal agencies. More than 100 surveillance cameras were set up to monitor the race as well as 50 observation points perched above the track.
“There’s cameras, but you know there’s 4,000 police officers out there and they will be very engaged this year. They’re all watching the public, watching the crowds, trying to detect suspicious behavior, trying to manage areas that just get too crowded,” Kurt Schwartz, Massachusetts’s Undersecretary for Homeland Security to ABC News. “We have expanded across the board.”
More than 8,000 steel barriers were erected, and pedestrians were limited to walking through checkpoints at roughly 40 locations. These checkpoints were set up with metal detectors and warrantless bag searches. Dozens of dogs were used to sniff pedestrians and baggage.
All sorts of mundane items were banned this year, including water bottles that carry more than 1 liter, medium and large-sized flags, water packs worn on the back, costumes, baby strollers, and non-transparent bags. Unsurprisingly, no one except government personnel were allowed to have any means of self-defense.
The public has seemingly welcomed the new standard of ubiquitous surveillance and security due to the fear inspired after the explosions that took place last year. Once in place, the measures are unlikely to go away and the public will grow to expect checkpoints and bag searches at any large public event — and beyond.
One woman remarked this morning on WLS-AM that the dominating security presence on Boston’s public transportation system was even more overwhelming than what was experienced at the marathon. As Police State USA covered earlier, Boston travelers are being subjected to warrantless bag searches at bus stations and subways in the name of Homeland Security. This appears to be the “new normal” for traveling in most large cities in the United States.
The “Boston Strong” meme has been echoed by marathon supporters on t-shirts, stickers, and press-on tattoos. But is the strength of Boston defined by overwhelming security and a lack of privacy? Is altering our way of life and diminishing our freedom a win for Americans or a win for the “terrorists”?
“We know of no specific credible threats to this event, but we remain vigilant,” said U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson this morning. If this is the level of security brought in when there are “no threats,” what liberties will we forgo when there are threats?