Cities prep security plans for large holiday crowds

Authorities across the country are stressing security precautions they have taken as large crowds gather for holiday events, urging the public to remain vigilant in reporting anything suspicious.

The deadly crash over the weekend in Waukesha, Wis., where a driver plowed into a holiday parade, killing six people and injuring dozens of others, has raised security fears about other holiday events in the coming weeks, when people are expected to venture out after largely staying home last year. 

While police said this week there is no evidence the Waukesha incident was terror-related — the suspect, 39-year-old Darrell Brooks, has been charged with intentional homicide — experts warn that the potential for violence increases as crowds gather more frequently this year.

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"Everybody across America today that has parades planned, they’re going to be revisiting their contingency plans," said Fred Burton, executive director of the Ontic Center for Protective Intelligence. He added organizers want "to ensure that they have adequate security plans in place."

Police in several major cities said they are monitoring for potential threats heading into the holiday season.

In Milwaukee, about 20 miles from Waukesha, a police department spokesperson said the agency has worked with event planners to "ensure that a safety plan is in place that is most appropriate for each parade on a case-by-case basis."

Officials in Philadelphia, which hosts the nation's longest-running Thanksgiving Day parade, voiced confidence in the city's security precautions following the deadly crash in Waukesha.

The Philadelphia Police Department “assesses each of the city’s major events and works closely with the event organizers throughout the planning process to ensure the safety of both participants and spectators,” a spokesperson said. 

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A spokesperson for the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) said officials are monitoring any potential threats this holiday season but said they are not aware of credible threats to the city.

Police "urge our community to report any suspicious behavior to the proper authorities. MPD maintains a level of preparation that would allow it to respond appropriately to any emerging concerns that may arise should it become necessary," the spokesperson added.

In New York City — which hosts the largest holiday parade, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — police say they have been working on security plans since last year.

"The layers of security and protection we will provide this year have been in the planning stages since the end of last year's parade," New York Police Department (NYPD) spokesman Sgt. Edward Riley told The Hill.

"As we do each year, the NYPD will deploy blocker cars, sand-filled Sanitation trucks, Critical Response Command cops specifically assigned to counterterrorism duties as well as Strategic Response Group officers, Patrol cops, and the Emergency Service Unit," Riley said. "There is a complex counterterrorism overlay with a hardened route and there will also be much the public won’t see."

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The Waukesha incident drew stark comparisons to a 2016 attack in Nice, France, where a truck drove into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day and killed 86 people. French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronMacron becomes first major Western leader to go to Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi killing Justice for Josephine Baker means restoring her US nationality Far-right commentator joins presidential race in France MORE labeled the incident terrorism. And in 2018 in Toronto, a vehicle rammed into pedestrians, killing 11 people. The driver was deemed a domestic terrorist.

Burton, a former diplomatic security special agent, said incidents such as the deadly crash in Wisconsin remind people of the potential danger that could occur in mass gatherings but warned against tying such events together. Officials have stressed they do not believe the incident Sunday was linked to terror. 

The violence in Waukesha followed days of tensions elsewhere in Wisconsin over the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two protesters and injured a third during demonstrations last year. A jury in Kenosha, about 55 miles from Waukesha, found Rittenhouse not guilty, a decision that sparked protests in the city and across the country.

President BidenJoe BidenMarcus Garvey's descendants call for Biden to pardon civil rights leader posthumously GOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania ​​Trump social media startup receives commitment of billion from unidentified 'diverse group' of investors MORE urged people in Kenosha to demonstrate peacefully, while Wisconsin Gov. Tony EversTony EversWisconsin Democratic governor vetoes restrictive abortion bills DA: Setting 'inappropriately low' bail for suspect in parade attack 'resulted in a tragedy' Wisconsin Supreme Court hands win to GOP in key ruling on new congressional maps MORE (D) also stressed the need to keep protests safe.

In response to the Waukesha incident, Biden said his administration is monitoring the situation and prayed for the victims and their families.

Biden noted that the "people of Waukesha were gathered to celebrate the start of a season of hope and togetherness and thanksgiving" before the violence erupted.

"This morning, Jill and I and the entire Biden family — and, I'm sure, all of us — pray that that same spirit is going to embrace and lift up all the victims of this tragedy, bringing comfort to those recovering from their injuries and wrapping the families of those who died in the support of their community," he said.

The White House has not previewed any trips for the president to visit Waukesha. 

Burton, with the Ontic Center for Protective Intelligence, said that event planners are right to redouble security efforts for holiday gatherings after the Waukesha crash but stressed the importance of people not avoiding such events due to concerns about a similar incident.

“I think everybody needs to live their lives and not be ruled by fear," he said.