By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Crowd control and security at the Apple Blossom Festival and other events in Winchester will never feel quite the same for 13 members of the police department after they spent last week working the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Those who reported for duty at the convention, all members of the SWAT team, were part of a 27,000-member contingent from police forces around the nation that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department requested to help maintain order among tens of thousands of delegates, protesters, reporters and politicians.
Winchester's officers were relieved when the grueling week was over, Capt. Doug Watson of the department's patrol division said at a press conference called Monday to talk about the experience.
The Winchester contingent worked 12-hour shifts or longer from the time they left Saturday until their return on Friday, he said.
"Guys were pretty much on their feet the whole time," Watson said of their duties guarding entrances to the Time-Warner Convention Center.
The SWAT team arrived to find a 27- or 28-block area around the convention site teeming with National Guardsmen and protesters as helicopters hovered above scaling fences eight feet high, Watson said.
"The magnitude of the event, it seemed in my opinion to almost be a war zone," he said.
Despite the long hours spent on their feet and difficulty fitting in time for basic human needs such as eating, sleeping and even going to the restroom, Watson said the convention was an unforgettable event, one he and other members of the team would participate in again if given the opportunity.
Those who went to Charlotte learned many lessons about managing security and safety for major events, he said, citing the need for enough leaders to manage rank and file police, communicating assignments clearly and, above all ensuring officers received enough rest and breaks. Local police also made numerous contacts with Secret Service agents and officers from other departments around the nation, relationships that could be helpful in the future, Watson said.
"I think there's a huge benefit to the city," Watson said.
The convention should also bolster city finances by the tens of thousands of dollars, he said.
The officers' travel, food, lodging and pay all came from Charlotte's local government, and the pay was at the much higher rate that police receive in Charlotte, Watson said.
"This did not cost taxpayers in Winchester a single penny," Watson said of the convention.
Nor did the one-week absence of 13 officers from the SWAT team harm crime fighting in Winchester, he said. The department made sure no one was on vacation during that period and staffing levels did not fall below minimum standards, he said.
As for the absence of the SWAT team, another team from the Virginia State Police was available "in case something bad happened while we were away," Watson said.