Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Inaugural Security Picture Coming Into Focus

In a front-page article in Sunday's paper about beefed-up security at the inauguration, the Washington Post again missed the forest for the trees.

Based on figures compiled from the Post article, the total security presence for the 2009 inauguration will be 67% larger than for George W Bush’s 2005 inauguration, while total attendance, currently estimated to be between 1.5 million and 3 million, will be four to eight times larger. In other words, the proportional security presence at Barack Obama’s inauguration will be anywhere from half to nearly a quarter of that provided for Bush in 2005.

According to the figures reported by the Post, the FBI’s Washington Field Office will bring in a 20% larger force than is typical for an inauguration. The Park Police, which oversees the National Mall, will increase its force by 66%. The D.C. police presence, bolstered by 4,000 officers from outside the District, will be 25% larger than that at George Bush’s 2005 inauguration. Relative to this year’s expected turnout, those increases would be paltry without a massive increase in military personnel acting as security.

11,500 active duty troops will be in Washington on Inauguration Day, compared with 7,000 in 2005, a 64% jump. But if the 5,000 servicemen and women who traditionally participate in the inaugural parade are discounted as security, the size of the military’s security footprint, in real terms, will increase from 2,000 to 6,500, a 225% larger force than in 2005. According to the Post, 1,300 unarmed National Guard soldiers will bolster the ranks of 1,000 Park Police tasked with controlling the 309 acres of the National Mall. The remaining 5,000 military personnel – a full brigade – will assist “with crowd control, communications, security, medical care, logistics, weapons detection and other needs,” the Post reported.

That means Obama’s inauguration, with a substantially smaller security presence relative to crowd size, will be substantially more militarized. Given that inaugurations are exercises in symbolism, filling Washington with thousands of uniformed troops seems like a potential public relations gaff. Obama rode into office on a wave of public discontent with the Iraq War. The last time the National Guard flooded DC’s streets was 1968, during the race riots that exploded after the assassination of Martin Luther King. A militarized inauguration could evoke both.

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