In wake of attacks, police plan ‘robust’ July Fourth security on Mall

A police security tower waiting to be deployed on the National Mall, part of the heightened security measures measures that area police are planning for July Fourth crowds. (Photo by Nathan J. Fish/Cronkite News)

A U.S. Park Police motorcycle on the National Mall, where hundreds of thousands are expected to turn out Tuesday for the annual Fourth of July festivities. (Photo by Nathan J. Fish/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Police are promising a “robust” security presence for July Fourth celebrations on the National Mall, just a few miles from the scene where a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress less than two weeks ago.

That shooting, and rising terror attacks in Europe, will lead to what one official with the Metropolitan Police Department said will be an “across the board increase in security” at the annual event in the shadow of the Capitol.

But police said that despite the heightened security, most of the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to show up for a patriotic concert and fireworks display Tuesday will not notice anything different from years past. Authorities are promising visitors will have “not only a fun but a safe environment to celebrate Independence Day.”

“Fourth of July is without a doubt our largest one-day event of the year. We have been preparing in earnest for the last four months,” said Mike Litterst, a National Park Service spokesman for the National Mall.

That planning includes the installation of 18,000 feet of chain-link fencing and almost 350 portable toilets, organizing the work of more than 100 volunteers and 150 Park Service employees on the Mall, according to the service.

For an event as large as this, Litterst said, Park Police have used the “full range” of law enforcement to plan security.

“We have a robust security plan in place,” Litterst said. “The United States Park Police is the law enforcement arm of the National Park Service. They work with the full range of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to plan this event.”

Park Police will have fences and checkpoints set up for the event, and said they have plans in place to deal with a variety of contingencies. Litterst pointed to a recent increase in attacks by terrorists who use vehicles to plow into crowds of pedestrians in Europe and said they have been taken into account.

-Cronkite News video by Noelle Lilley

“We are certainly aware of the increase use of vehicular attracts around the world,” he said. “All of those go into our security plan.”

But Litterst said that planning for this event is nothing new for the Park Service.

“We do this event every year, so we do have a blueprint and a template that we can use from year to year and tweak it based on something we learned or something that came up that we want to improve on from last year,” he said.

“Visitors from last year won’t notice anything different,” Litterst said. “Some of the finer points of what we’re doing behind the scenes or preparing are probably not noticeable.”

Litterst said that the most noticeable security precautions will be “fences around the secure areas and check points that you’ll go through.”

But he said visitors have a role in the safety of the event, too.

“It’s said time and again, but always bears repeating, if you see something, say something,” Litterst said. “There will be a lot of law enforcement officials and park rangers around that you can stop if you have concerns about a suspicious activity or a suspicious person.”