THE MAGAZINE

Unconventional Cooperation

By Brian M. Van Hise

Day one of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Denver was drawing to a close on Monday, August 25, 2008. The work day had ended for many downtown. A warm summer evening was slowly taking over the hot, dry day, and the Denver Police Department had just issued the command for a group of several hundred masked “black bloc” demonstrators to disperse at the city’s Civic Center Park. Ignoring these orders, the group diverted around the police force, heading for the 16th Street Mall, Denver’s busiest pedestrian strip. That could have created havoc; instead, police were ready and had them cordoned off at 15th Street and Court Street. The surrounding buildings had already locked down as police had alerted them to the evolving security situation.
 
As the tension between demonstrators and police rose, 911 dispatchers began receiving calls of rioting and looting nearly 10 blocks away in lower downtown. Should the police break away and respond? “We had our troops committed. The department was committed to resolving this other situation,” says Lt. Rob Rock of the Denver Police Department, who recalls watching the situation unfold at 15th and Court via the city’s emergency operations center (EOC).
 
Instead of sending police officers to investigate the reports from lower downtown, Rock called out to the private sector, since nearly every building downtown has security and most security companies had additional forces for that week.
Joseph P. Gargan, CPP, CFE, vice president of safety and security for Advantage Security Inc., received Rock’s call and passed on the report to private security officers at buildings in lower downtown. “We checked them out and found that they were all false calls,” he says.
 
The calls were a diversion. “That’s a standard tactic,” Rock says. “They want to draw resources to something that isn’t an emergency so that they can continue to do whatever it is they were going to do. And it didn’t work because of our cooperative efforts with private security.”
 
Police moved in and arrested more than 100 demonstrators. It was the first and only mass arrest during the week of the DNC, and it was made possible by an unprecedented partnership between the city’s public and private sectors, one that scarcely existed just a year before.

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