As Atlanta dreamed, police prepared for rare championship celebration

Atlanta United officials contacted the city’s police department two weeks ago to get ready for the rarest of celebrations in the metro area: A championship parade.

The city hadn't hosted such a celebration since 1995 when the Braves won their only World Series title, but Atlanta officials knew they'd be ready if United won the MLS Cup, which the team did Saturday night with a 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers. The city has extensive experience putting on complex parades, including the annual Atlanta Pride Parade and other events.

Still, Monday’s championship parade presented at least one unique challenge, said Deputy Police Chief Scott Kreher, who oversees the Contingency Operations Division, which manages large event preparation for the department.

» FULL COVERAGE: Atlanta United | The team, its fans, its victory 

It put star athletes in close proximity with passionate fans who were anxious to interact with them and police had to be prepared.

“A little bit of that happened today,” Kreher said.

When fans crossed barriers, it became difficult to tell the difference between spectators and participants, but officers didn’t try to stop them.

“We made sure the fans were safe,” Kreher said. “But we also gave them a lot of leeway.”

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

The city pulled out its Veteran’s Day route for Monday’s celebration. It’s a 1.2 mile path down Baker and Peachtree streets and Marietta Street and Andrew Young International Boulevard through the heart of downtown Atlanta, ending outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

According to city ordinance, signs had to be posted along the route 36 hours in advance providing notice that streets would be closed on Monday and that any parked cars would be towed away if not moved the night before.

Local police are well aware of recent incidences where bad actors used cars to attack crowds in other major cities and so on Monday morning, they blocked points of entry with heavy duty trucks from the public works and sanitation departments. About 200 Atlanta officers were assigned to the parade Monday. Kreher estimated the parade cost several hundred thousand dollars, but that his understanding was that Atlanta United picked up most of the costs.

Although the parade drew thousands of people, it was relatively small. A parade's size is judged by its elements — the number of floats or marching bands. The Atlanta United victory parade had only 15 elements and was over in about an hour. By way of comparison, the Pride Parade through midtown in October had more than 250 elements and typically lasts for four to five hours.

After the parade ended, the celebration continued at Home Depot Backyard at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms joined team members and other dignitaries on stage.

“Congratulations to this amazing team,” the mayor told the crowd. “I know some of you weren’t even born the last time we had a championship in this city.”