- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2008

CHICAGO (AP) | Authorities are bracing for as many as a million people in downtown Grant Park Tuesday night to cheer on Sen. Barack Obama as election returns come in, a potential celebration and security headache.

Police in Chicago and elsewhere around the country say intense interest in the election and the possibility of large crowds in major cities are leading them to take crowd-control precautions usually seen during Super Bowls and World Series. In addition, local police will be providing security at polling stations to keep things running smoothly on Election Day.

Security preparations in Mr. Obama’s hometown include orders for off-duty firefighters to haul their helmets, breathing tanks and other gear home until after the election in case of any emergency. All Chicago officers have also had their days off canceled and are required to work Tuesday, Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis said.

“I’m extraordinarily confident that we can keep Senator Obama safe, that we can keep the citizens of Chicago safe and that we can keep the neighborhoods safe,” he said, adding later that, “We always prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

Other parts of the country are thinking through security as well.

In Los Angeles, police typically deploy extra squad cars at polling places on Election Day and Tuesday will be no different, said Michael Downing, the Los Angeles Police Department’s deputy chief. But he added that nothing suggests “people are going to riot or conduct themselves inappropriately depending on who gets in.”

In Detroit, most of the city’s 3,000 officers will be working Election Day, said police spokesman James Tate.

“That’s any presidential election,” he said.

Asked whether preparations are more intense than in previous years because of the heightened emotions surrounding this election, Steve Martin, chief sheriff’s deputy in Franklin County, Ohio, said, “I think we take all of those into consideration.”

A permit application for the Chicago event said 65,000 spectators would likely show up, but many more without tickets are expected to arrive for what Obama backers hope will be a celebration of the first black American elected to the presidency. Sen. John McCain is planning a smaller election-night party in his hometown of Phoenix.

Chicago police have imposed sweeping street closures and parking bans that will effectively shut down the city center late Tuesday.

Mayor Richard M. Daley told reporters that he would have preferred the rally at a stadium, where crowd control would be easier. But he said with a laugh, “Could you see me saying ‘no’ to Senator Obama? Give me a break. I’m not that dumb.”

Some church leaders, including the Rev. Albert Tyson, encouraged people to stay away from the event if they don’t have a ticket. Mr. Tyson and other religious leaders around the city are hosting neighborhood viewing parties.

“One of the things that Chicago is known for, besides broad shoulders, is common sense,” he said. “Common sense says if you don’t have a ticket, don’t show up at the affair.”

Mr. Daley estimated the cost to the city of helping to stage the event - including adding more police and extra transit trains - at around $2 million, and the Obama campaign has said it will pay all those costs.

Hilary Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, criticized anyone who might suggest that Obama supporters in black communities might react violently if their candidate loses after having led in polls for weeks.

“It does raise some racial insensitivity concerns,” he said.

He added that the importance of Election Day security was driven home by the recent arrest of two white supremacists accused of plotting to kill Mr. Obama, though he said that such extraordinary security might intimidate voters.

“We’ve unfortunately seen there’s a few fringe people who want to create havoc, so it makes sense to have extra security,” he said. “The flip side’s that is that any heavy-handed presence of law enforcement at polls could be intimidating.”

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