, Salem, MA

October 28, 2013

Salem tightens Halloween security

Marathon bombing causes city to take extra precautions


---- — SALEM — Even before the Boston Marathon bombing, Salem Police were ramping up preparations for Halloween.

Earlier this year, Salem and MBTA police scheduled a drill simulating an eerily similar event to what unfolded on Patriots Day in Boston — a backpack filled with fireworks igniting inside a crowded train car in the Salem commuter rail tunnel. The drill was held in June.

“Frankly, every year we move toward a more Homeland Security mind-set,” said Capt. Brian Gilligan, who is overseeing police operations for Halloween.

But this year, following the bombing, Salem Police did take several additional steps to try to ensure public safety on Thursday:

State Police are providing portable surveillance cameras to cover the “dead spots” in the downtown.

A State Police helicopter will hover over the city and feed live video and photographs to Salem Police laptops and iPads.

The Essex Street pedestrian mall will be roped down the middle to allow a flow of foot traffic in two directions.

Some of the changes are a result of greater collaboration between Salem and State Police. That cooperation began, in part, when Salem Chief Paul Tucker and State Police Major Thomas Grenham, the event commander for the state, took part in a counter-terrorism seminar last winter in Israel.

A few weeks ago, Gilligan went into Boston and sat down with Grenham to review Salem’s preparations and find out about security measures used recently at the July 4 fireworks on the Esplanade and the Head of the Charles Regatta.

“We went over everything,” Gilligan said. “It was reassuring to find out we do many similar things.”

Just recently, Grenham came to Salem to walk the downtown with Gilligan and Tucker.

As a result of the meetings with State Police, Salem is setting up a tip line for texters this year. Anyone who sees something of concern can text 67283, then type in a password — Salem1031 — followed by the text message.

Salem Police also sent a notice to area hotels and lodging houses asking them to contact police if they notice anyone or anything suspicious.

“It’s just enlisting as many eyes and ears as we can,” said Gilligan. “Police can’t do it alone.”

Last Friday, Gilligan met with the U.S. Coast Guard about security along the waterfront. Several hundred visitors arrive by ferry on Halloween day. As in past years, the Salem harbormaster and his staff will be on patrol.

Salem Police also met with the FBI.

“This is an international event,” Gilligan said, “and the FBI is very helpful to us evaluating potential public safety threats to and through Halloween.”

One setback this year is the absence of a mounted police horse unit. Boston disbanded its unit several years ago, and Salem has relied on a Plymouth County team in recent years. Arrangements could not be made this year, Tucker said.

“We’re going to have to use a combination of motorcycles and foot officers” to clear the pedestrian mall and downtown at night, the chief said.

A total of about 200 officers will be on duty Halloween night, with police coming from area communities, the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, State Police and the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, a regional force that has SWAT and rapid response teams. There also will be several K-9 units here with bomb-sniffing dogs.

With the MBTA commuter rail station under construction, a stairway that is normally used will be out of service, and thousands of riders will be led down a pathway to Bridge Street.

The T will provide security at the station and also is allowing the city to use one of its aerial surveillance towers downtown.

Police are trying to prepare for everything, Tucker said, even the possibility the World Series could go to a seventh game at Fenway Park on Halloween — in which case Salem could lose a lot of law enforcement resources.

“We have contingencies for contingencies,” the chief said.

The goal is to make Halloween a safe community and family event, Tucker said. Living in these times means taking every reasonable step to ensure public safety, he said.

“I think the public should have a lot of confidence in the public safety professionals,” he said. “Every year, we don’t just rest on our laurels. ... We try to plan and employ the best practices.”

“You kind of take a look in the mirror,” Gilligan said, “and say, ‘Is there something else we should do?’”

Tom Dalton can be reached at