How federal, local lawmen plan to protect public leaders

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

The attempted assasination of President Reagan, and more recently of Pope John Paul II, may lead to changes in the way the world's political, religious, and business leaders are protected in the United States.

Already, the US Secret Service and police departments from New York to Los Angeles are proceeding with a great deal more caution. Security details have been reinforced and new emphasis has been placed on electronic technology.

In addition, both Secret Service Director H. Stuart Knight and a special investigation unit within the US Treasury Department (which has jurisdiction over the Secret Service), are conducting studies on how to improve security for public officials from the President himself to other top US officials and visiting foreign dignitaries. These studies should be ready in a matter of a few weeks, sources say, but much of their content will remain top secret for security reasons.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

But what is happening to security measures at the local level around the country is abundantly clear already, according to top law enforcement officials. They say it is epitomized by just two words: "higher priority."

Ronald Smith, chief of operations for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), is urging members to be more "cautious" and "attentive" in security situations, and interviews with police departments across the nation indicate they are doing this -- amd more.

Here is some of what is happening in the nation's capital and in other cities:

* Secret Service budget hike. The Secret Service has requested from Congress nearly $3 million more to protect the President and White House as part of its "supplemental budget" request for the 1981 fiscal year, secret Service spokesman say. This is on top of an earlier request by the agency for an additional $9.71 million this year, mostly for "merit raises."

The US House Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, has recommended that the agency get another $9.25 million to cover the impact of inflation on operating expensses, including the higher price of gasoline. Thus, all told, the Secret Service, for which Congress originally earmarked $157 million for fiscal year 1981, is expected to actually receive approximately $178 million this year, Secret Service and congressional sources say. For fiscal year 1982, President Reagan has recommended $177.55 million, but this will probably spiral upward also.

* Protecting the President. Greater security for the President can be expected along three lines:

1. "New caution" based on the "additional factor" that the President was shot and seriously wounded in an assassination attempt, says Secret Service spokesman Jim Boyle. He explained that threats against the President increase sharply after an assassination attempt and, in fact, the number of peopel arrested by the Secret Service in connection with threatening the president's life has mushroomed since the attempt, figures show.

2. More manpower assigned directly to the President, although exactly how many more agents is classified informantion.

3. Growing use of electronic survelliance. This already has been highly visable. When Mr. Reagan spoke at Notre Dame University and the US Military Academy at West Point recently, those attending the graduation ceremonies had to walk though "electronic scanners" similar to those used in airports to "use more sophisticated methods," says agent Richard Hartwig.

* New York Police Department. When Pope John Paul II visited New York for two days last year, 12,000 policemen each day "were directly involved in the Pope's protection," says Deputy Inspector Peter Prezioso. Now the department has added significantly more officers to its VIP security details, depending, the inspector says, on what country the foreign dignitaties are from.

"When you've got a heated situation like we've seen in the last month or so," Inspector Prezioso says, "we put additional people" on the security force. This enhanced protection he likened to some bomb scares: Although a bomb scare may turn out to be a hoax, many buildings have to be evacuated anyway. So, too, while additional manpower may indeed prove to be superfluous when no problem arises, it is a necessary precaution. Other security experts also say added protection "sends a signal" to would-be wrongdoers.

* Other police departments. "In the major cities, police departments are making this type of security a higher priority," declares Ronald Smith, chief of operations of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The Los Angeles Police Department stands prepared to beef up its guard for world leaders: "We're being more cautious," says spokesman Alvaro Fragoso, who is an expert in police security. "Even more thotough," he adds. But he cautions along with many other experts that "you need to address the whole gambit of security factors. There is no easy answer." This includes not only the undeniable need for more alertness and manpower, he says, but for laws and courts more favorably disposed to police actions against potential assassins of public leaders.

This latter point focuses squarely on a complex legal question -- "probable cause."

For example: If a public leader is going down a parade route and a policeman spots a "suspicious character," the policeman cannot detain or search the individual unless there is "probable cause" a crime may be committed. Otherwise , he coudl face the possibility of both civil and criminal lawsuits. In cases of this nature, many courts have ruled that there is "probable cause" if the outline of a gun or another concealed weapon is seen on the individual. But a suspicious bulge" under a jacket or in a pocket that turns out to be some inoffensive object could leave the officer liable for both civil and criminal penalities.

Some law enforcement officials say that if they think a crime is about to happen they will "take the risk" of lawsuits. But knowledgeable police spokesmen say this is the exception rather than the rule.

Gara LaMarche, assistant director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, also is concerned with the issue of "probable cause" as it relates to stepped-up security for public officials, but from a different perspective. Although he says police may use the recent assassination attempts as justification to try to circumvent the legal rights of individuals along parade routes or in crowds, he remains much more concerned about the effect tightened security will have on political activist groups.

"We all share the revulsion at these acts of violence," he affirmed. But he believes the Reagan administration, in its effort to tighten security and shield leaders from acts of terrorism in the US, may "try and infiltrate" activist groups in this country that may have an entirely different political philosophy. He also voiced concern that there may be new restraints put on the nationwide trend of "deinstitutionalizing" mental patients, returning more of them to life in the community.

Both the Secret Service and local officials are expected to put a great deal more emphasis on coordination between federal and local authorities, law enforcement obervers say, even though the Secret Service and police departments usually say cooperation is already strong.

Notes First Deputy Superintendent James Riordan of the Chicago Police Department:

"We have been informed by the Secret Service that the Chicago Police Department is the most cooperative police agency in the country in the matter of security for visiting dignitaries. We fully intend to continue functioning in this manner."

The Secret Service is responsible for safeguarding the President an dhis family; the vice-president and his family; former presidents and their wives; the children of former presidents up to age 16; the president-elect and the vice-presidential candidates; visiting heads of state; "other foreign dignitaries" when the White House insists upon it; and "official representatives of the US performing special missions."

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...