Participants and spectators at the 37th Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk on April 5 should expect to see an increased police presence and take extra steps to avoid delays, according to a panel of police officers on Friday.
Because of the Boston Marathon bombings last year, the Bridge Run, which had the ninth-largest race in the United States last year, is among many of the major races that are taking more steps to try to avoid a similar incident from occurring.
Planning for the extra security at this year's Bridge Run started almost immediately after the bombings, according to police and event officials.
"It is not because we have a specific threat, but because we want to have a safe, enjoyable event," said Deputy Police Chief Anthony Elder of the Charleston Police Department.
Elder joined Mount Pleasant Police Maj. Stan Gragg and North Charleston Police Lt. David Singletary for what they dubbed a closed "panel discussion" for the media. Singletary did not speak during the meeting. They requested that no part of the meeting be recorded.
Elder and Gragg gave the basics of security measures but remained purposefully vague about some of the security plans.
They confirmed that bomb-sniffing dogs and other "additional technology" will be deployed in security efforts.
"This will be the new normal," Gragg said. "We're looking out for the safety and security of everybody."
The presence will extend to all Bridge Run events, including the expo at the Charleston Area Convention Center in North Charleston on April 3 and 4 and the Kids Run & Wonderfest at Hampton Park on April 4.
The effort will involve an unprecedented number of police, intelligence and emergency staff from a spectrum of federal, state and local agencies, though the panel declined to specified how many officers would be deployed for the effort.
They are asking for cooperation and patience from both participants and spectators and will be urging everyone to be on the lookout for suspicious people and activity and report it immediately by calling 911. Dispatchers will direct all Bridge Run incidents to the unified command.
"If you see something, say something," Gragg said.
Elder and Gragg said that efforts will be concentrated on the starting line area in Mount Pleasant and finish line area in downtown Charleston, including the loading of shuttle buses.
Runners and walkers who used to be corralled by volunteers at 30 different starting line gates along Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant will now have to pass a police officer and S.C. National Guardsmen. They said participants with bulky clothes, costumes and backpacks can expect to be stopped and searched with metal-detecting wands. Shuttles carrying dry, warm clothes to the finish line also have been moved to the Shem Creek and the Sea Island Shopping Center areas.
While costumes will not be banned or discouraged, Gragg asked that those wearing them not cover their faces.
At the finish line, extra efforts will be made to monitor spectators and to keep runners and walkers moving toward Marion Square.
"The heartburn will be at the finish line," Elder said. "When you get to the area, it (the increased security) will be obvious."
Bridge Run Director Julian Smith also sat in on the panel discussion and added that the extra security efforts at major races have been common since the Boston bombings. Both he and the officers say they do not expect the added security to take away from the enjoyment of the event.
As of Friday, Smith said 35,000 people have registered for the Bridge Run. The cap for regularly priced registrations is 38,400. Many of the corrals for runners have reached capacity already.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.
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