Beefy, black-clad security officers, donning bullet-proof vests and perched on a scaffolding, peered across Civic Center park through military-style binoculars Saturday as crowds began to grow for the first day of Denver’s 4/20 Rally.
Teams of security officers performed “soft” body pat downs and backpack searches before allowing anyone through several entry gates. An officer only half-jokingly said he was checking for guns, knives and high explosives.
The watch tower and patdowns are just a few of the enhanced security measures for this year’s 4/20 event that were noticeably absent from the 2013 gathering marred by a stampede toward the stage.
“It’s presidential-style security,” Miguel Lopez, chief organizer Miguel Lopez boasted.
He was more sheepish when he spoke of last-year’s security breaches, when a crowd tumbled through a barricade and trampled each other while ascending the stage.
This year, Lopez hired three security companies to patrol the two-day event. Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon, who is running for governor as an independent, also hired a captain and a lieutenant from his department to help. He paid for it himself. One of the security teams had 40 security guards carrying guns and handcuffs.
“We’re armed and everything,” said Jesse Peña, owner of Special Agent Security Service. “If we see a crime happen we do an arrest and then just get a police officer.”
Part of the reason for enhanced security are projections that because of legal marijuana the crowds of people from across the country are likely to at least double last year’s numbers. Lopez is expecting 80,000 visitors a day.
The Denver Police Department, which cited eight people for public marijuana smoking by midday, invited state and federal law enforcement officers to tour its command center at police headquarters a block away. The communications center has about 50 TV screens that can flip back and forth to 138 HALO and 38 traffic cameras.
Pat Phelan, commander of the department’s special operations unit, said the cameras will ensure rapid deployment of a beefed up downtown police presence Saturday and Sunday.
“We don’t expect to see a problem, but we’re prepared if there is,” Cmdr. Matt Murray said Saturday.
Avid marijuana inhaler Guy Orvis, 62, of Denver, who rode to the festival on a wheelchair rigged out like a lounge chair, said the extra security makes a lot of sense.
“It puts everybody on notice to keep it on the down low. I’m not about violence or anything,” he said.
He denied that the smoke — with a particular scent — pumping out of a cannister at the back of his wheelchair was cannabis infused. But a small crowd of people followed him around the park sniffing deeply and giggling.