Washington Prepares for Farewell to Ford

By John Pomfret and Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 30, 2006

PALM DESERT, Calif., Dec. 29 -- The nation's six days of formal mourning for Gerald R. Ford commenced Friday afternoon with a private service for his family and a period of public repose at the church where the 38th president worshiped for the three decades since he left the White House.

As the quiet and simple service took place in California, a continent away, law enforcement agencies in Washington called in hundreds of officers to provide security for the second presidential funeral to take place in the nation's capital in three years.

The authorities said that a section of the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway, near the Suitland Parkway, will be shut down for a short time starting at about 5:30 p.m. on Saturday to allow the motorcade carrying Ford's casket to pass by. A number of streets in Alexandria and in Washington will also be temporarily closed.

The state funeral service in Washington will occur amid heightened tensions in Iraq, where ousted leader Saddam Hussein was hanged Saturday morning for a mass killing in 1982. Homeland security officials said there has been no intelligence pointing to an increased threat to the United States.

Still, "you always plan for the worst," said William H. Pickle, the Senate's sergeant-at-arms.

Hundreds of Capitol Police, U.S. Park Police and D.C. police officers, as well as members of the Secret Service, are being called in over the New Year's weekend to bolster security, officials involved in the planning said. D.C. police canceled all days off for officers Tuesday, officials said.

Pickle, who helps oversee the Capitol Police, said checkpoints will be set up around the Capitol, and specialized units that detect chemical, biological and other hazards will be on alert. The Capitol Police will prohibit mourners from carrying food, drinks, or audio or video recording devices, as well as bags larger than 14 by 13 by 4 inches.

Kim Bruce, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service, which is coordinating security, said "there will certainly be bomb-sniffing dogs" patrolling the crowds. She declined to comment on the rest of the security arrangements. But, in a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said that regular measures for such events include portable fencing, barricades and pre-positioned teams that can respond to emergencies and nuclear incidents.

Pickle said that his office, the U.S. Army Military District of Washington and the House speaker's office have been planning for the funerals of Ford and other former presidents for years.

"We pretty much have a game plan in place," he said in an interview. In the past few days, he said, the plan has been fine-tuned "to fit the circumstances and . . . the family's needs and desires."

One uncertainty is the number of mourners who will attend Ford's services. About 200,000 people on both coasts turned out to view former president Ronald Reagan's casket in 2004; his funeral drew two dozen heads of state. Ford's funeral is expected to be a smaller, simpler affair, at his family's request.

Security concerns were paramount at the California service, as well. A phalanx of officers from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department on motorcycles escorted Ford's hearse to St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, located on a bluff overlooking the Coachella Valley. There were traffic detours around the church. Helicopters flew overhead, and bomb-sniffing dogs checked backpacks and packages.

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