Security efforts get a screening

Dalai Lama’s visit brings protesters as well as VIPs

By Janice Gregorson

Demonstrations didn’t cause any added security problems for local law enforcement on special detail during the visit of the Dalai Lama earlier this week in Rochester.

In fact, coordinators of the security detail had nothing but praise for the way the demonstrators handled themselves.


Rochester Police Lt. Scott Sherden and Sheriff Capt. Mark Darnell both said the security requested for the Dalai Lama was fairly low-level.

Sherden said members of the joint city/county emergency response unit handle the dignitary protection detail. Eleven members were involved in the security. In addition, the K-9 bomb sniffing dogs were used to do what Darnell called previsit bomb sweeps of all of the areas the Dalai Lama was expected to go. That includes hallways, conference rooms and even hospital rooms at Saint Marys Hospital.

Two groups of demonstrators were on hand for the visit — one pro-Tibet and the other pro-China.

Darnell said officers were on the scene at all times.

"There was nothing physical,’’ he said of the demonstrators. "They were good about how they did things."

He said they also had a permit to protest and complied with the restrictions imposed.

How it works

Sherden said in any type of dignitary security, local law enforcement works in conjunction with either the State Department or Secret Service.


"They call the shots and they tell us what they need and we do it,’’ he said.

This, he said, was fairly low level.

He said different agencies protect different people. Secret Service protects the president, heads of state and presidential candidates. The State Department protects other people. Sherden said the level of security they request from local law enforcement is different.

"They come to us and we work with them to provide what they want,’’ he said.

He said that during the Dalai Lama’s trip, some minor yelling matches occurred among protesters, but nothing unexpected.

"They were decent with us. They were upfront with us. We set the perimeters with what they could and couldn’t do, and they were fine with that,’’ Sherden said.

Darnell agreed.

More dignitaries likely


It might well be just the first of several visits by dignitaries this presidential election year.

In fact, Police Chief Roger Peterson went to the City Council with an overtime request in 2007 anticipating visits by presidential candidates this year. He asked for, and received, an additional $80,000 for overtime because of the anticipated political visits.

In sharp contrast to this week’s dignitary visit would be a visit by a sitting president, such as occurred in September 2004.

That’s when Peterson said he needed 180 officers to cover everything requested for President Bush’s campaign visit — and he had only 120 officers in the department. Squad cars from throughout southeastern Minnesota were seen in the city that day.

At the time, Peterson estimated the president’s visit cost his department about $25,000, largely in overtime expenses. Two weeks earlier, it cost the department about $9,500 to provide security when presidential challenger Sen. John Kerry came to town.

The difference is Kerry’s event was on private property for 150 people; President Bush’s event was a large rally at Mayo Field with an expected 15,000 people.

More effort and money was spent during the campaign due to additional visits.

Kerry returned again for a rally later in the campaign, and the city hosted Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush’s twin daughters on separate visits.

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