Roughly 2,000 out-of-town police officers begin arriving in Washington today to aid authorities at Thursday's inauguration, the largest group of reinforcements ever brought in for the swearing-in.
The officers are coming from 85 law enforcement agencies, large and small, including volunteers from Los Angeles; Seattle; Charleston, W.Va.; and Burleson County, Tex. Most will be stationed Thursday on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, protecting the inaugural parade, or at other high-profile events.
Authorities traditionally seek help from outside agencies for the inauguration. But this time, the security demands were heightened because this is the first inauguration since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The outside officers will join about 4,000 personnel from the D.C. police force, U.S. Capitol Police, U.S. Park Police and other area agencies -- forming an unprecedented security net.
The plea for assistance went out in a letter to many agencies shortly after the November elections, and generated heavy interest. The District is picking up the tab for the officers but hopes for reimbursement by the federal government.
"There is no way to provide for security in this post-9/11 world without bringing in these outside agencies," said D.C. police Capt. Jeffrey Harold, who is helping oversee many of the District's security preparations. "We couldn't get the job done if they weren't here."
Most of the outside officers have received training with crowds and protesters from their local departments. That experience is important, because thousands of demonstrators will converge near the Capitol and parade on Thursday. D.C. police will give the outside officers a briefing and training session about local laws and how to handle trouble, officials said.
The outside officers will wear the uniforms of their home departments. They will work in groups led by D.C. police supervisors, so the security follows a clear chain of command.
The out-of-towners will be deputized by the U.S. Marshals Service, giving them authority to take emergency action and make arrests. D.C. police officials said outside officers will not make arrests, leaving that to local law enforcement, which will be close by.
"They are here for security," Harold said of the outside officers. "If an arrest has to be made, we will try to keep them out of it."
As they prepared to head to Washington, officials with the outside departments said it was an honor to participate in such a high-profile and historic event. Some said they felt obligated to do their part, especially in the age of terrorism.
"No agency can do these things alone," said Jim Turley, police chief in Albany, N.Y. "It makes sense for public safety to pitch in and help out."
The Charleston police force was "happy to be invited," said Lt. Lex Williamson. "The guys were very surprised to get an opportunity to go."
Other police officials said they viewed the inauguration as a way to learn more about security in a high-threat environment. They said the experience is free training.
"This is a great training opportunity," said police Sgt. Brian Schmautz of Portland, Ore. "It would cost us thousands of thousands of dollars to do this normally. How often do you get a chance to go to a place where there are so many people with so many different opinions who are all going to be energized about what they believe?"
As in the past, many local agencies also are lending support, including police from Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties, according to a list provided by the D.C. and Park Police forces.
Other departments -- although not affiliated with the official inaugural festivities downtown -- will have their own special patrols.
For example, teams of bomb-sniffing dogs from the Maryland Transportation Authority Police will inspect and patrol MARC commuter trains traveling from Maryland to the District on Thursday, authorities said.
"When you start talking about anything dealing with the president or federal government, it brings a new twist to things," said Sgt. Kevin Anderson of the transportation force's dog squads. "This is our business. This is the inauguration of the number one leader of democracy for the whole world."