Security at the Marathon
What I was afraid of, in the moments after the Boston Marathon bombing last year, was that we - the city of Boston, the Boston Athletic Association, the people of Massachusetts, Americans - would overreact. In those moments there wasn’t much talk about the next marathon as people mourned for the likes of Martin Richard. Always looming though, were the inevitable changes that would be made to the race in 2014. Earlier this year the Boston Athletic Association added a whole host of restrictions for runners.
Runners who like to run in costume won’t be allowed to wear anything that covers their face or bulky clothes; strollers won’t be allowed at the Athletes’ Village near the starting line in Hopkinton or around the finish line on Boylston Street; neither will backpacks, glass containers, any container that can carry more than 1 liter of liquid, vests with pockets, or suitcases and rolling bags.

People will also be forbidden from wearing backpacks that carry water — such as CamelBaks. Props like sports and military equipment will be banned, as well as flags or signs that are wider than 11 inches and longer than 17 inches.

Bags, used in the past by runners to carry clothes and other personal items, will be banned on the buses that carry runners from Boston Common to Hopkinton, where the race starts. And no bags will be brought by those buses back to Boston.



The new restrictions also boded ill for “bandits” — the unauthorized runners who join the race every year. The rules said that this year bandits would be “subject to interdiction.”

“Similarly, units or groups such as military ruck-marchers and cyclists, which have sometimes joined on course, will not be allowed to participate,” the e-mail said.
But look, it ain’t all bad
Runners can carry fanny packs and fuel belts.
Restricting what people can carry and where they can move was one part. The other part of the response to last year’s attacks would be increased law enforcement. We've learned that the Boston Police Department has stepped up their presence both in terms of manpower and technology.
To keep runners and spectators safe, he, his officers and members of at least 14other law enforcement agencies from Massachusetts and beyond will deploy a diverse and intimidating array of security resources.

Among other things, officers will erect 8,000 steel barricades -- 1,200 more than last year – around the race route, man at least 40 checkpoints and command four times the number of K-9 units as were present at last year’s race.

Another 3,500 uniformed and undercover officers will spread out along the marathon route, looking for anything suspicious in the crowd of spectators or among the 36,000 runners – 9,000 more than usual -- expected to start the race.

Those trained eyes will be augmented by 40 new security cameras, both fixed and mobile. They will send video to a fleet of upgraded command post trucks and the Boston PD’s 180,000-square-foot glass encased headquarters.
To be clear, the BAA and the BPD are trying to do what’s best for people’s safety. They’re not trying to usher in a 1984-style dystopia. But good intentions aren’t all that matter. So, is it too much? The restrictions put in place by the BAA, sadly, smell like security theater. Bandits and costumes don’t put anyone in danger. Bags arguably pose a security threat, but almost every person needs to carry a bag. It looks like the BAA just banned everything they could think of rather than taking specific actions targeted at stopping violence. I thought maybe, given how long it took to come out with these regulations, the BAA might have used that time to seriously think about what aspects of the race might put people in danger. Instead it looks like they took a broad stroke. A common reaction, but ultimately one that I don’t think makes anyone safer.

The increased police presence does serve an actual purpose. More surveillance, whether it is by people or cameras, could actually spot a threat. I have seen studies in the past that have linked increased numbers of police to reduced crimes. Seems pretty logical. The problem as I see it is do we want this extra presence. Do we want to be monitored this closely? Do we want cameras and undercover cops watching the entire city. I think even Boston Police Commissioner William Evans acknowledges the problems with this:
But he said he doesn’t want an outsized security presence that will make people who come to watch the race and cheer on the competitors feel uncomfortable.
This line of questioning may make some people angry, but I don’t feel like these questions were explored in by the public in the past year. Last year was terrible and we never want that to happen again. But it doesn't mean we shouldn't question the response? Is it appropriate? Will it make us safer? And the deeper question, is this what we want our race, or our society to be?



 
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