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Alben: Ensuring public safety requires delicate balance

Date: 2/27/2014

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – Col. Timothy Alben, superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, said that in a post-Boston Marathon bombing world ensuring the public’s safety at large events is “a delicate balance.”

He told an audience at Western New England University (WNE) on Feb. 20, “There are certain risks when we bring large numbers of people together.” Alben added the goal is to “suppress that risk.”

The Holyoke native, East Longmeadow resident and graduate of WNE spoke for about one hour on the events leading up to the bombing on April 15, 2013 and how the terrorist suspect was captured. Alben said he had to exercise caution about speaking about the suspects because of the pending legal proceedings.

What he said helped prepare the law enforcement community in the Commonwealth deal with the bombings were previous events, specifically the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston and various sports championships. During these events the State Police and municipal police have formed friendships and relationships that allow for better communication and collaboration, he explained.

Alben said the two largest events in Boston annually are the marathon and the Boston Pops July Fourth celebration. The latter attracts 600,000 people and shuts down Storrow Drive, he explained. Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, those events have helped law enforcement understand “there is great liability when that many people are in one space.”

What the marathon represented was a “perfect storm” for potential terrorist attacks, Alben said. The Boston Red Sox game at nearby Fenway Park with 37,000 fans overlaps the peak of the marathon runners crossing the finishing line, he explained.

The Boston Marathon “would be a perfect target,” he said. Alben added that in our area the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Holyoke could also be considered a potential target because of the number of people it draws.

Alben said there is traditionally a heavy law enforcement presence in Hopkinton because it was thought the start of the race with the runners gathered could pose a more attractive place for an attack.

Speaking of the security there, Alben said, “There’s a lot you won’t see.”

No one anticipated bombs being brought to the finish line in backpacks, he said.

He praised the training and the experience of Boston police, who were in charge of the security for the last two miles of the race and noted the work done by the emergency medical technicians on the scene.

“Not a single person taken to a hospital died,” he said.

He described the investigation that followed as a “massive, massive undertaking” and said the crime scene was “horrific.”

The 14-block area was cordoned off in Boston as members of law enforcement “collected every single speck of material on the street,” Alben said.

A call to the public for photos and video yielded many images and Alben said the public was the “third party” in this investigation, something he sees as a trend for the future.

Alben said that closing down of the transportation system and asking businesses to stay closed was another “ask” made by law enforcement and the cooperation was “overwhelming.”

Alben said he was struck while watching videos of the marathon the people assembled at the finish line were “having a good time.” He said that many people pictured didn’t look around them and that it’s clear the public has to be more vigilant at events such as this one.

“[It’s] one of the things we have to get into the American psyche,” he said.