Host of Oklahoma Bomb Trial Circles the Wagons for Security
Denver hatches plans to keep the peace amid media storm
AS Denver looks ahead to the trials of Oklahoma City bombing suspects Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the mood here is surprisingly low-key. But it's more than just a reflection of the angst-free Rocky Mountain disposition Coloradans' are known for.
This mid-sized city with the small-town feel has already been quietly preparing for next fall's onslaught of television crews, curiosity seekers, witnesses, and anyone else who may be attracted to visit during the trials.
"Things are going to operate smoothly, the trial will go on, and that's how it's going to be," asserts Sgt. Mark Lewis, spokesman for the Denver police department.
Since Judge Richard Matsch announced that the trial would be moved to Denver from Oklahoma City out of concern that pretrial publicity would make a fair trial there unlikely, officials in this city of 500,000 have developed a swift and comprehensive plan to avert disruption to daily lives.
Mayor Wellington Webb immediately set up a task force to address issues of security, traffic, parking, and media relations. Downtown business owners, tenants, and workers have gathered in recent weeks to discuss their concerns with city leaders. City police hosted seminars, which more than 200 citizens attended, on how to recognize and respond to a bomb threat.
"Knowing we have security measures in place has really calmed peoples' nerves," says Chris Chavez of the Downtown Denver Partnership, a local business association. "People feel prepared."
The hubbub of an internationally consequential trial goes far beyond anything this city has known. The annual National Western Stock Show and Rodeo has heretofore been Denver's biggest event. But Denver is a young city anxious for recognition. Local officials got Denver International Airport approved - to the tune of $4.9 billion - in part by promising residents it would put Denver "on the map" as the geographic center of the country.
While city leaders welcome the attention - and economic boost - the trial will bring, they are committed to maintaining security. Denver police are teamed with federal agents and US marshals to oversee security around the four-building downtown federal complex - spanning three full city blocks - where the US courthouse is situated.
"I really think this is going to be the safest place to be," says Ian Van Riemsdyk, director of the 19-story Embassy Suites Hotel, two blocks from the courthouse. "There is a huge presence of FBI here. Attention has gone up 105 percent."
The Federal Center in nearby Lakewood, Colo., - with its 7,000 employees - has the highest concentration of federal installations outside Washington. There, surveillance cameras and metal detectors are in place, and anyone entering the complex must show identification. Five miles away, in the upscale suburb of Englewood, the Federal Correctional Institute sits on 43 acres, ensconced behind razor wire. Somewhere inside, McVeigh and Nichols are under 24-hour surveillance.
On April 9, city and federal officials got a dress rehearsal for the trial - expected to begin by early next year - with Denver's first pretrial hearing. Some 150 reporters, photographers, technicians and curious citizens gathered outside the 1960s-era courthouse, and about a dozen satellite trucks parked in a lot across the street.
"It was really business as usual," says Debbie McCarthy, marketing director for the Denver Marriott Hotel, also a short walk from the courthouse. "Traffic wasn't affected. Roads weren't closed."
"The biggest impact will be the media," Amy Eury, city spokeswoman says. "But nobody is expecting the kind of media circus they had at the O.J. Simpson trial."