By Kenneth Lipp
Yep, there’s gonna be a fence.
The announcement in the press this morning that there would be erected an 8-foot-tall fence around a 4-mile stretch of Center City during Pope Francis’s September visit prompted some of the first critical response about the event from the general Philadelphia public. The seemingly exaggerated protective measure has had many questioning the potential imposition of an overblown security presence in Philly during the September World Meeting of Families.
Mayor Michael Nutter, via Press Secretary Mike McDonald, responded today to an NBC 10 report about the fence, denying that the city had plans to erect any such thing.
Authority to oversee security for the Pope’s visit is assigned by its designation as a National Special Security Event (NSSE), for which the Secret Service is the security point-man. If a fence were to be built it would be up to the Secret Service, and they told Newsworks, in response to an inquiry about Nutter’s claim, basically: “can’t say.”
Erecting a large-scale barrier such as the rumored 4-mile chain-link in the vicinity of the Ben Franklin Parkway is a typical measure taken by the Secret Service and cooperating agencies, as seen in Charlotte and other recent national quadrennial partisan conventions. The fence used by the Secret Service in the past is 8-feet high black steel that folds-out, with a chain-link pattern, but instead has solid joints, and is a likely candidate for the reputed Pope’s partition.
There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think they will have a scaled down operation for Pope Francis in Philly. They won’t say it yet , but if they believe there will be adversarial crowds, it’s a relative sure thing, if not the exact size reported.
The Director of the Secret Service says that the week of the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia will bring unprecedented challenges for the agency. Dir. Joseph Clancy told the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in March, regarding the coincidence of the World Meeting of Families with the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA) in late September:
“Special agents from across the field and headquarters will be called upon to establish temporary protective details for an expected record number of visiting heads of state and government.”
Clancy told the subcommittee that the majority of UNGA events in New York City are scheduled for September 22nd through September 28. Pope Francis will visit Washington, DC, NYC,, and Philadelphia, from September 24th through September 27th.
“The UNGA is always a challenge for the Secret Service…but with its 70th anniversary coinciding with the Papal visit,” Clancy told the oversight body, during hearings whose primary concerns were recent misconduct disclosures as well as operational failures on the part of the Secret Service, “I expect this year to be especially demanding on our front-line employees.”