AJC Road Race gets security boost

Mayor announces increased police, surveillance for AJC Peachtree Road Race

Two weeks after bombs exploded along the Boston Marathon route, killing three and wounding hundreds, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced increased police patrol and video surveillance measures for the AJC Peachtree Road Race.

Calling the July 4 race an “Atlanta institution,” Reed described at a Monday news conference how federal, state and local authorities are planning a heavier security presence for the event through additional officers, K-9 units and video cameras along the streets.

“The events in Boston will be top of mind,” said Reed, flanked by Atlanta Police Chief George Turner and Atlanta Track Club executive director Tracey Russell. “We will use every city resource necessary to maintain order and safety.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race generally attracts more than 60,000 runners and 150,000 spectators, according to race organizers. Neither Reed nor Turner gave specific details about noticeable changes that would impact those groups, such as restricting access, changing the race route or limiting backpacks. But they said officials are studying these issues and are expected to make an announcement at a later date.

Reed said the city is increasing the number of cameras along the 6.2-mile route and that he may turn to the corporate community for financial help.

The use of video surveillance — monitored by the city’s Video Integration Center — has dramatically increased in recent years, jumping from 50 cameras in 2012 to around 1,300 today, Turner noted. The bulk of those cameras are located in the downtown, Midtown and Buckhead areas, Turner said.

Reed pointed to the use of video surveillance from municipal and private cameras as key to the capture of the Boston bombing suspects, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The elder Tsarnaez died in a standoff with police in the days following the April 15 bombing. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was arrested April 19 after being found in a parked boat in a residential Boston neighborhood.

“It is important to note that when we started to implement this program, there was a good amount of pushback about whether this was valued or needed,” Reed said. “I hope that discussion is over, because you are going to see me push forward harder and harder regarding video surveillance.”

In addition to cameras, Turner said that he plans to increase the number of officers working the race from 250 to 300, beef up the SWAT units and add more bomb-sniffing dogs. The Atlanta Track Club also employs off-duty officers to police the event, he noted.

Reed warned that these security measures may cause disruptions on July 4, a day that begins with the world’s largest 10K and ends with fireworks across the city.

“I don’t want to paint a fairy-tale picture,” Reed said. “The city is not going to run normally that day. We are going to employ extraordinary resources to keep it safe.”

Runners such as Rob Dozier, a senior at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, said that after the Boston bombings, he naturally expected an increased security effort. He is committed to running the 10K regardless, though he initially had doubts.

“At first I thought maybe it wasn’t safe, but I started thinking about it more (and realized) that means we lose, that whoever does these kinds of things wins because we’re afraid of them,” Dozier said in an interview the week after the attacks. “Added security would be a no-brainer, but other than that, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”

When Dozier runs, Reed will be joining him at the starting line.

“We are not going to allow the acts of two sick murderers to alter our life and behavior,” Reed said.

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