Philly’s coordinated efforts during convention impressive

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 11, 2000

It was fun last week to be in the city of my birth during the Grand Old Party’s quadrennial coronation.

Friday, August 11, 2000

It was fun last week to be in the city of my birth during the Grand Old Party’s quadrennial coronation. Philadelphia hosted the Republican National Convention and from every indication, the party was a success.

Email newsletter signup

As we drove past the spanking new First Union Center off Interstate 95, the vantage point of the six-lane highway offered a vista of the hubbub surrounding the sports complex in south Philly that includes the Spectrum and Veterans Stadium. Tents surrounded the arena’s south side while cameras pointed in every direction off the building were set up to capture activity on the grounds surrounding the facility.

City Highway Patrol units, unmarked patrol cars and other uniformed officers kept the Broad Street exit blocked from exiting traffic, as well as allowing police full visibility from the most heavily traveled highway along the east coast. First Union Center is less than a stone’s throw from the interstate, so I am sure there were security issues with the proximity.

What impressed me most was the Philadelphia Police Department’s surveillance and how it did its homework in preparation for the protests that would accompany the national event. Often maligned because of past problems in the department, rooted back into the days when former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo was police commissioner, and from the MOVE bombing in the 1980s, the department seems to have rebounded. The only complaints came forward from those arrested during protests. The protesters claim they were mistreated and their rights were violated. But if anything is true, the cops in Philly were more than one-up on the protesters.

One of the top stories on radio and TV in Philly was how a bus was stopped in northeast Philadelphia as it headed toward protests in center city Philly. The bus had been spotted in Seattle during the World Trade Organization protests. When the bus was pulled over, officers found snakes, skunks, rats and other animals that would have been released during protests.

Other things I heard from fellow media representatives covering the event were how the protesters used inexpensive Family Radio Service walkie-talkies to coordinate their activities. These radios are available in most discount and department stores. What the protesters probably didn’t expect was that Philadelphia’s finest tuned into these conversations, which is perfectly legal considering that these radios are readily available and shared with other unlicensed users. Those on the Philly police force who I know who are fellow radio hobbyists I’m sure made their superiors aware of the capability of these radios and how they could be intercepted. It must have worked.

It was surprising to see that hundreds were arrested on the first night of the convention. Between the sheer numbers and the possible use of animals by protesters to scatter crowds was enough to keep us away from the hubbub and to seek refuge in the nearby Pocono Mountains, close enough to keep tabs on the convention, but far away enough to not be bothered by gridlocked traffic or trouble.

Los Angeles’ police chief and its mayor didn’t waste any time coming to Philly to see how things were handled so they can be ready for next week’s Democratic National Convention. Surely they took back a lot of tips and plenty of intelligence.

Did Philly pull off a great party? WCAU, the NBC-owned TV station in Philly, sent reporter Terry Ruggles on to the streets to ask convention goers whether they enjoyed their stay in the city, whether people seemed friendly and whether they’d come back in the future. Of the 61 people surveyed on the streets that afternoon, everyone voted in the positive for Philly’s favor.

Something is right in the City of Brotherly Love.