Keeping Us Safe At the Tournament of Roses Parade

By Brandon Lomenzo Black 

Security control car – Image by Candace Frazee

The symphony of marching bands and cheers echoes up and down Colorado Boulevard as float after float passes by the euphoric crowd. Year after year, thousands of spectators as diverse as the roses on the floats themselves brave the elements and yawning hours to secure a coveted spot along the 5.5-mile-long parade route.  

All the while, a high-profile security effort is underway whose mission leaves zero room for error. Its elements are equal parts concealed and meant to instill a forceful presence.

Since 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has classified the Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl Game as Special Events Assessment Rating (SEAR) Level 1 (the highest level on a scale of 1 to 5) requiring extensive federal coordination and support.

Swat security – Image by Candace Frazee

Make no mistake, Pasadena is being kept safe from a potential attack. Ensuring the safety and security of the Rose Parade—while adapting to national and international terrorism-related incidents—is a choreography of law enforcement partnerships which supplement,and act in lockstep with, the Pasadena Police Department and LA County Sheriff’s Department.

Federal resources and personnel converge on Pasadena ahead of Tournament of Roses events. Over the years, this has included elements from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Environmental Protection Agency, and DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations unit.

“We cannot effectively manage [safely] the Parade and Rose Bowl Game with just the 230 sworn officers of the department,”says Pasadena Police Lieutenant Sean Dawkins, who serves in the Event Planning and Counter Terrorism section which coordinates all events in the city.

Parade security – Image by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

In public comments over the years, law enforcement officials have unequivocally stated that the parade and game have not been subject to threats. Despite this, the atrocities of high-profile attacks committed in recent memory have necessitated an evolution of security measures implemented in the planning for the parade.

Along the route, overhead surveillance security cameras complement teams of K-9 bomb-sniffing canines patrolling the streets.SWAT teams from multiple agencies are strategically deployed throughout the parade route which supplement undercover and uniformed law enforcement personnel.

“We’re using our imagination in the worst possible way to say, ‘If I were the attacker what would I do? What kind of countermeasures am I going to set up?’” says Jesse Baker, special agent in charge of the LA field office for the US Secret Service.

Baker is the federal coordinator for the 2019 Tournament of Roses events and will represent DHS as the liaison between the federal government and state and local authorities.

Modified Bearcat – Image by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

“Major security threats are thought about and addressed, and we [local and federal law enforcement] set up counter measures and plans to prepare for them,” continues Baker.

Chief among those threats are vehicle-born attacks like those seen in Nice, France on Bastille Day in July 2016 and in New York City in October 2017 which have led law enforcement to shut down the parade route to vehicles at 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

Integrating barricades and specialized vehicles at the more than 50 entry points into the parade route, mitigates, if not eliminates, such a threat.

What’s more, the “See Something, Say Something” campaign which empowers citizens to report suspicious activity, for instance, an unattended backpack left on the ground, continues to be an invaluable intelligence resource for authorities.Preparation is well underway for the 130th Tournament of Roses Parade which celebrates “The Melody of Life,” an appropriate theme given the considerable orchestration required to ensure the safety and security of all visitors to Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

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