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News Opinion Editorial

Can Baltimore have a safe Fourth of July?

With thousands of people expected to converge on downtown Baltimore tomorrow to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, city police will be out in force to ensure the safety of residents and visitors to the area. Baltimore officials have made securing the Inner Harbor and its environs a top priority, and with any luck, by the time the crowds finally head home tomorrow night everyone will have had the opportunity to enjoy a safe and memorable Independence Day.

The event is a crucial one for the city, as it comes after months of news reports about youth mobs in the area onSt. Patrick's Dayand a handful of other occasions, and is the anniversary of a killing and a shooting that escalated concerns about security in Baltimore's primary tourist destination. The calls by suburban lawmakers for their constituents to avoid the city at all costs or for the governor to call out the National Guard were easy for most Marylanders to dismiss as hysteria, but a repeat performance tonight would risk hardening negative perceptions about downtown Baltimore.

Police say they have learned from last year's festivities that the sheer size of the police presence counts for less than a capability to quickly move forces around in response to rapidly changing conditions. Though the force won't necessarily be significantly larger than last year's, officials hope to make it a more agile, nimble presence that uses the resources it has more efficiently.

Accordingly, there will be hundreds of officers from several jurisdictions assigned to foot patrol, as well as bike units, horse-mounted and motorcycle units, K-9 units and patrol cars. Officials say having the flexibility to move 50 officers from one point to another on short notice pays greater dividends than having two or three times that number stationed at fixed positions.

In addition to reports from officers on the scene, hundreds of surveillance cameras and the city's helicopter unit will continuously stream live video of the event to police headquarters, giving commanders there a broad overview of events and an ability to respond quickly to developments on the ground.

Police will also be employing some novel tactics developed since last year to keep them one step ahead of the crowds — and deter potential criminals. The use of portable metal bike racks as perimeter fences, for instance, will help officers more easily secure people gathered around the Inner Harbor during the day. After nightfall, police will use the same barriers to direct groups out of the area when revelers begin to disperse after the fireworks display.

Finally, there will be a beefed-up presence of emergency medical crews in the area to assist people who succumb to high temperatures expected to be in 90s or other health-related problems. And visitors should expect some streets in the area to be rerouted or closed for automobile traffic after the fireworks begin.

While it's impossible to absolutely guarantee that nothing untoward will mar this year's festivities, the measures the city has taken to minimize that possibility are more robust than ever before. No one wants to see a repeat of last year's incidents, in which a young man was fatally stabbed and a 4-your-old boy was wounded by an apparently stray bullet, or of the rowdy groups of youths who briefly disrupted this year's St. Patrick's day celebration.

It's worth pointing out, however, that no such problems surfaced during the city's recent Sailabration weekend commemorating the War of 1812, nor last year's Grand Prix  auto race, both of which brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to downtown. That shows Baltimore officials know how to make the city secure. Harmful as the earlier unfortunate episodes were to perceptions of Baltimore as a tourist destination, they were isolated incidents whose significance as indicators of a city beset by violent crime likely was greatly exaggerated. The vast majority of people visiting the city on both occasions were never even aware of them.

We have reason to hope that similar concerns about today's event will turn out to be equally unfounded. Crime in the city has been dropping steadily for nearly a decade, and while it's always a possibility that some knucklehead, to borrow a term from our former police commissioner, will do something stupid, authorities seem prepared to deal with them swiftly. So hope for good weather, wear plenty of sunscreen and look forward to a fabulous time being had by all.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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