Convention security will test NYC task force
New York — Hotel rooms for the 25,000 or so party bigwigs, delegates and alternates, spouses, and press people who will converge on New York City Aug. 10 for the Democratic National Convention?
"No problem," says Charles Gillette, president of the New York Convention & Visitors Bureau. There should even be a few rooms left over for other visitors to the Big Apple.
"No problem" -- just the usual traffic bottlenecks, which might seem a bit unusual to some of the out-of-towners.
Street crime and threats of terrorism?
Well, these are the concern of the New York Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- and they are not saying "no problem."
Of special concern, FBI officials stress, are threatened bombings by some of the same radical organizations that claimed responsibility for damaging the museum of the Statueof Liberty on June 3.
A joint task force, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, was formed by the two law enforcement agencies last month, and the convention will be the first major test of its effectiveness, authorities say.
"The convention will be the task force's first real go-round," says Joseph O'Brien, deputy press secretary to Mayor Edward I. Koch.
FBI officials say the groups that will be watched most closely are the FALN, a radical pro-Puerto Rican independence organization, and Omega 7, a Cuban anti-Castro group; both have claimed responsibility for scores of bombings. The FALN (Armed Forces for National Liberation), along with three other groups, claimed credit for the explosion in the exhibition room at the base of the Statue of Liberty June 3.
There were no injuries, but some museum displays were damaged or destroyed.
"There was a little musunderstanding that the task force was formed primarily for the Democratic National Convention," said Quentin Eurtel, a spokesman for the New York City office of the FBI, but it really was set up provide a more effective means of counteracting terrorist organizations at all times.
The US Secret Service, of course, will be on hand in force to protect the candidates, but the main responsibility for protecting visitors and New Yorkers alike from street crime such as robbery and assault falls to "New York's finest."
At least 200 to 300 additional police officers will be on duty in the immediate Madison Square Garden convention area, city officials say. However, this number could well above the 1,000 mark by assigning police to overtime duty.
President Carter last month asked Congress to appropiate $7 million for beefed-up security at the Democratic National Convention in New York and the Republican National Convention in Detroit.
This measure has been passed by the Senate and is expected to make it though the House shortly, according to Julian Spire, in charge of New York City's liaison office in Washington. HE said that, although most in the Congress recognize the need for security at the conventions and the appropriateness of federal spending for it, the $7 million requested is more than double the $2.6 million appropriated for the same purpose four years ago. He blames inflation.
New York officials say $3.25 million of the $3.49 million expected to be spent here be to help pay for police overtime.
Mr. Gillette of the visitors bureau says he is sure the delegates will enjoy their stay in New York, which is still the "convention capital of the world." New York, he points out, ranks only 17th among major US cities in terms of crime per capita.