- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 4, 2004

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The matrix of security checkpoints, surveillance cameras and police officers protected thousands of visitors from potential terrorist attacks yesterday, but it could not stop the rain and lightning from driving them off the Mall and out of other public places.

“There’s not too many people down here [so] we haven’t been too busy,” Sgt. Scott Fear of the U.S. Park Police said yesterday afternoon. “But as it gets closer to fireworks time, we’ll be busy. Everybody’s working.”

Many checkpoints were almost empty through the afternoon, with officers sitting idle and sometimes allowing tourists to stay under their awnings for several minutes to wait out the downpour.

The Metropolitan Police Department activated its 14 closed-circuit TV cameras at about 8 a.m. — a frequent procedure since the September 11 attacks to monitor activity along the Mall and the downtown area during marches, national holiday celebrations and other big events.

Police had confiscated a few objects at several of the checkpoints.

The cameras were to be turned off at about 10 p.m. when the fireworks were expected to end. The images are fed into the police department’s Joint Operations Command Center, which also was activated for the festivities.

Sgt. Fear said Park Police have closed-circuit cameras around the Mall and some federal buildings that would be turned on yesterday, as they are every day. However, he declined to specify the number.

Though the rain turned the Mall into a mix of mud and wet sand, visitors who wanted to get a seat for the fireworks display still had to pass through one of 19 checkpoints to have their coolers, backpacks and packages inspected.

Police inspected the Mall yesterday morning before opening it at about 10 a.m. Some early visitors had to wait for about five minutes, but the heavy downpour and lightning quickly cleared the lines, and visitors took cover in museums, restaurants and other indoor places.

The National Park Service was in charge of the security yesterday but was assisted by more than 20 agencies. Sgt. Fear said the majority of visitors were “complimentary” about the security system, despite the occasional waits and detours.

• Arlo Wagner, Isaac Wolf and Sean Salai contributed to this report.

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