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Police escort variety of officials to events

Officers involved in crash were escorting NFL commissioner to game

By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

8:41 PM EDT, September 14, 2011

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Animal Kingdom, the thoroughbred that won this year's Kentucky Derby, got a police escort to Pimlico for the Preakness. Wounded war veterans got escorts to Orioles games. Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell got an escort to the Grand Prix.

Police escorted the bus carrying Ravens players to M&T Bank Stadium and gave the same courtesy to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Police also got NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to Sunday's game on time, though two motorcycle officers crashed in Essex — an incident that drew attention to the practice and raised questions about whether the commissioner received special treatment.

Baltimore officials say there is no formal policy on who gets a lights-and-siren, blow-through-red-lights escort, but requests are reviewed by commanders on a case-by-case basis. Other agencies contacted, including the state police, say their policies are similarly informal.

Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi noted Goodell's official status, the security concerns of Sept. 11 and the tight schedule as reasons for approving the commissioner's speedy trip from his private jet at Martin State Airport to the stadium on Russell Street.

The officers, who were cut off by a car while preparing for the detail and put their bikes to the ground to avoid a collision, were not seriously injured, police said.

Guglielmi said the agency denied an escort request from the Ravens cheerleading squad Friday because there was "no specific security concern." A Ravens spokesman said they wanted a police escort for the all-day "Purple Friday" bus tour because the cheerleading squad had run into traffic problems the previous year.

Authorities say requests for police escort are typically granted because of security issues and concerns about whether visiting dignitaries or public figures might draw fans or protesters and need protection or crowd control. Questions arise when it appears that status and celebrity trump security concerns.

"It's not unusual to get requests for escorts on a daily basis," said Lt. Col. Michael J. Andrew, who retired from the Baltimore Police Department in February and was most recently in charge of the Special Operations Unit, which approves escorts.

"Everybody and his brother wants one," said Andrew, a 38-year veteran. "There is no set rule as to who gets one and when. The people who want them are using taxpayer dollars to apply for something you and I can't get."

Andrew said the escort for Goodell appeared more about convenience than security.

"It's a little weak saying it's 9/11 and it's the NFL commissioner and he's high profile," he said. "But it's also an unusual situation on that specific day. Still, you're not providing security for him. You're providing an escort."

The colonel said a lack of a definitive rule leaves the decision to the whim of whomever is in command.

"Everybody has different criteria," he said, noting that he had approved a request last year that might seem questionable — a police escort for an umpire who needed to get toCamden Yards.

Law enforcement agencies across the country routinely grapple with deciding when it is appropriate to provide a police escort. In 2006, state police in Massachusetts escorted a Boston Red Sox backup catcher from the airport to Fenway Park in time for a game against theYankees.

In 2007, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police stopped a controversial practice of escorting sports celebrities and other VIPs to commercial flights at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, enabling them to avoid lines at security gates.

This year, police commanders in Washington were disciplined for providing a high-speed escort for Charlie Sheen, made public after the actor posted a message on Twitter noting that his limousine driver was speeding at 80 mph. Published reports found that the Metropolitan Police Department had provided escorts for people such as Bill Gates because of their celebrity status and not because of security concerns.

Last year, a Baltimore police officer shot out the back window of a car that sped around a roadblock on an Interstate 83 off-ramp near Hampden. The roadblock had been set up to allow passage for an escort for oversize vehicles involved in the filming of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Guglielmi said the yearly police escort for the Kentucky Derby winner is both ceremonial and security-related.

"God forbid something bad happens to that horse or to his trailer," the police spokesman said. "It would have a significant impact on the race and on the economy of the city, not to mention the bad public relations."

He said that Powell, the honorary grand marshal for the Baltimore Grand Prix, was offered an escort because of his status as a former White House official. Several police agencies escorted the retired general on his trip into the city.

The NFL's security chief, Jeffrey B. Miller, said Goodell travels frequently without police escort but had requested one Sunday because of his unusual travel schedule and warnings from the FBI about possible terrorist attacks.

Goodell attended three football games Sunday — in Baltimore, Washington and New York — and got a police escort in each city, Miller said. The commissioner wanted to be on time for each city's Sept. 11 pre-game ceremony.

"Some people might argue it's not important," Miller said. "We believe they were very important." He added, however, that a police escort for Goodell "is not something that normally occurs."

Miller said police routinely escort buses carrying visiting teams into stadiums across the country.

"People throw things at buses," the security chief said. He cited security concerns for visiting players but acknowledged that schedules can be a factor.

Miller said teams compensate police for the escorts, but precise amounts were not immediately available. Said Guglielmi, "The practice is consistent with NFL teams throughout the country."

Police agencies provide escort for a variety of reasons: visits by dignitaries, for example, or large funerals, which can involve processions of hundreds of cars moving through red lights.

Guglielmi said celebrities and other high-profile visitors do not automatically receive escorts but could qualify if they attract significant public attention. "That public attention could turn negative," the police spokesman said.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III routinely visits wounded veterans in military hospitals in Bethesda and invites them to Orioles games. The bus carrying the veterans is escorted by police cars with lights on and sirens blaring, up Interstate 95 and into the city.

"As far as the troops, it's the least we can do," Guglielmi said. "They are heroes, and they are going to get a hero's welcome."

Several area police agencies said that like the city, they don't have written rules for escorts, but allow commanders to make decisions based on the merits of each request.

"It's usually based on security, public safety or threats," said Cathy Batton, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Police Department. "We usually don't get too many requests."

Police in Howard County said officers might have provided a brief escort to I-95 for an entertainer after a performance at Merriweather Post Pavilion, but a spokeswoman said she could not recall a formal escort request in the past year.

State police spokeswoman Elena Russo said public safety is a primary consideration.

"We certainly don't support celebrity-type VIP escorts, or escorts for people not currently serving in office," she said. "They have to travel by the rules of the road like any other citizens."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com