Report details Charlotte’s DNC hits and misses

cwootson@charlotteobserver.comJune 11, 2013 

A federal report released Tuesday praised Charlotte’s security plan for last year’s Democratic National Convention but highlighted problems with airport traffic, police housing and communications.

The U.S. Department of Justice said officers “successfully provided safety to over 50 venues, 92 critical infrastructure sites, thousands of delegates and VIPs, and thousands of event attendees.” Police controlled demonstrations and made only 25 arrests, the report said.

But the report said the airport’s traffic plan actually worsened traffic and 50 out-of-town officers had to be relocated one night due to dirty dorm rooms without air conditioning. The high-tech joint medical operations center had to buy backup phones from the Salvation Army due to “communications deficiencies,” the report said.

“I think we could be ready for an event like (the DNC) tomorrow,” Chief Rodney Monroe said Tuesday. “I think we’ve shown ourselves, and we’ve shown the city and we’ve shown the world that Charlotte is a place that can manage major events.”

In conjunction with the report, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police outlined how they spent a $50 million federal security grant.

Among the issues raised by the report:

•  Airport problems. The report concluded problems were amplified by a lack of communication between police and the airport.

Initially, airport officials had civilians and traffic cones in front of the terminal to direct traffic, but because of limited space, they just caused backups. After a police recommendation, the cones and civilians were removed, but the report concluded that airport officials and police should have talked beforehand.

The airport also had communication problems with the Secret Service, which staffed security checkpoints. A lack of common screening protocols and unfamiliarity of credentials “caused confusion and bottlenecks,” according to the report.

A few months after the DNC, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police assumed control of security at the airport, and airport police officers were placed under the department’s jurisdiction.

•  Security checkpoint bottlenecks. A lack of screening protocols and unfamiliarity with credentials also caused confusion and bottlenecks at security checkpoints leading to Time Warner Cable Arena, the main site of the convention.

Sometimes, Secret Service agents stopped people with credentials for vehicles that didn’t need to be inspected because of confusion about who was allowed inside secure areas.

•  Housing officers. The report says the department did a good job of feeding more than 70,000 meals to 6,000 officers, but problems surfaced early with plans to house out-of-town police.

“Housing subcommittee leaders experienced difficulty in securing available hotel rooms early on for law enforcement officers.”

CMPD also did not receive timely information from outside agencies about the officers that would be occupying hotel rooms, causing more problems. “This lack of information made it difficult for CMPD to coordinate officer assignments with the lodging and transportation needs,” the report said.

•  Joint Medical Operations Center phones: For the first time in Charlotte history, medical leaders consolidated resources and expertise at a Joint Medical Operations Center. But the center had serious phone problems, according the report.

“Had a major health or medical incident occurred, the JMOC would have not been able to effectively handle a large number of incoming or outgoing calls,” the report concluded.

Personnel at the JMOC primarily communicated by cellular phones, the report says, but the backup landlines were outdated and couldn’t transfer calls or place them on hold.

“When two phones broke during the DNC, personnel were only able to find replacements at the Salvation Army because the phones could not be digital,” according to the report.

•  Radios. Officers generally received bad marks for their use of police radios. Officers were encouraged to use plain talk when speaking over police radios, but frequently reverted to 10-code shorthand that can vary by department and cause confusion.

Officers’ radios were tuned to the proper radio channel before they were given out. And officers were instructed to just turn the radios on and talk. But during shifts, officers’ radios would get switched to different channels, complicating communication.

To make matters worse, officers increasingly talked by cell phone, which prevented other officers from getting information. “Communication during the event could have been improved with proper training and briefings on how to use radios.”

•  Delegate buses. None of the delegate buses initially hired by the DNC committee were handicap accessible. “Individuals with access and functional needs were not accounted for in the transportation plan for delegate buses,” the report concluded.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson

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