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Oscars Security 2017: The Donald Trump Factor

Deadline logo Deadline 2/20/2017 Anita Busch
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EXCLUSIVE: Only about 10 days ago, Hollywood Boulevard and the Red Line were shut down due a suspicious suitcase that was placed on an electric rail in the subway below the Hollywood & Highland complex. The police response was immediate, and the busy tourist area was evacuated before the all-clear came about three hours later after the LA County Sheriff’s bomb squad investigated. That happened as security operations were readying for the 89th Academy Awards, which takes place at Hollywood & Highland’s Dolby Theatre on Sunday — only five days away.

“You always wonder when something like that happens if someone is checking response time [for the bomb squad and robots],” said one senior law enforcement official, who added quickly that everyone is ready.

“He’s right about the response time, but they could also be checking if people will report it,” said one security expert who has worked many big Hollywood red carpet events. “What is more concerning for law enforcement is multiple and staggered explosions” like what happened at the Boston Marathon.

While concern about foreign terrorists is always an issue, “the external threat is the same,” said the the security expert. “But this will be the largest stage of the liberal left in the world, and they will use it to promote political issues, so you’ll have immigration issues, Donald Trump issues and things like that. So knowing that, you look at domestic possibilities with clashes between the two sides. I think that Donald Trump gave certain powers to the right and the ultra-right, so there may be some issues with that outside. The security everyone is looking at is really about physical clashes of the ideas between people who believe in them.”

The Oscar show is broadcast not only in the U.S. but also in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide, making the the biggest televised event in the world.

How many people might show up outside the Dolby Theatre?

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, responsible for the setup, said they expect about 750 in the stands outside the theater. But given that this has been a year of protests, it would not be unusual for hundreds more to show up outside of the approved perimeter.

“There will definitely be issues in terms of protests, given everything that we have seen lately — just given the fact that the Academy Awards is a big stage not just domestically but internationally,” said Horace Frank, the Assistant Commanding Officer of the LAPD’s Counter-Terrorism & Special Operations Bureau. “So we certainly hope that these protests remain peaceful, but as you and I know, hope is not a strategy. So if things take a turn in the wrong direction, we will have the necessary measures in place to address those issues.”

All the same security measures that were in place last year will be there this year — members of the SWAT team at the ready, tactical gear, bomb-sniffing dogs and obvious and not-so-obvious sophisticated surveillance equipment. There will be metal detectors again this year, and cars will be swept.

“We are keeping all of the same security measures in place this year. The threat has not diminished,” said Frank. “Our biggest threat continues to be the HVE, the homegrown violent extremists. That continues to be a concern for us. So we are absolutely going to take extra measures to counter that threat.” HVE are those who are not necessarily directed by foreign terrorists but are influenced by those groups and then take matters into their own hands.

Security for the Oscars comes in two phases each year: the setup in the days leading up to the awards and then the show itself. As was the case last year, high-definition security cameras will be in full force and will be broadcasting to a command station, but law enforcement and security people also send this message to anyone attending the Oscars or outside the theater: If you see something, say something.

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