Security to be tight as Obama visits Detroit auto show

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Expect tight security and traffic delays for President Barack Obama’s scheduled midday visit Wednesday to Detroit for the auto show and a stop at UAW offices.

Some downtown Detroit streets will close during Obama’s visit Wednesday to the auto show and a stop at UAW offices, the Detroit Police Department announced in a statement.

Eastbound Larned, from John C. Lodge to Washington, and the entrance ramp to the Lodge from Congress are closed until the presidential visit ends.

“During that time, citizens can expect traffic congestion, long waits and delays during their travels,” the statement read. “The Detroit Police Department encourages the community to remain patient and consider an alternate route to and from their destination.”

Meanwhile, the People Mover will offer “extremely limited service between 12:30 and approximately 3:30 p.m.,” officials said in a statement.

Trains will not stop at the Renaissance, Millender Center, Financial District, Joe Louis Arena and Cobo Center stations, which are closed for pedestrian entry starting at 12:30 p.m. The remaining eight stations will be served by one People Mover train operating between Fort/Cass around to the Bricktown station and back.

Two motor coaches also will stop in front of six People Mover stations; customers may board in front of the Fort/Cass Broadway, Michigan Greektown and Grand Circus Park Bricktown stations from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., officials said.

After security clearance, DPM stations will reopen and normal operating service will continue until midnight.

Detroit police are coordinating with state and federal authorities to prepare security measures for the visit, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said.

“Any time the president comes, there’s a heightened police presence,” Craig said. “He’s been here before, and we’ll respond like we always have.”

Showgoers could run into traffic backups as Obama travels from Detroit Metropolitan Airport to downtown. It might be more difficult for auto show attendees to get in, too.

North American International Auto Show spokesman Max Muncey said attendees normally are not required to pass through metal detectors, but added: “There will be changes to the security protocol for tomorrow.” When asked if that meant metal detectors will be used, Muncey said he couldn’t comment on security specifics.

Downtown streets may also be snarled as Obama’s motorcade heads to the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources, on the riverfront about two miles east of Cobo Center, for a speech.

The president plans to discuss Detroit’s revival and the 640,000 auto industry jobs created since the $85 billion bailout of the U.S. industry, officials said.

Retired Detroit police Cmdr. Kenneth Williams, who coordinated police security for presidential visits from Ronald Reagan to Obama, said there are several behind-the-scenes precautions taken whenever a dignitary comes to Detroit.

Streets and freeways will likely be shut down while Obama travels to and from Cobo, Williams said.

“Mostly, it’s about traffic and crowd control,” the 25-year veteran said. “You’re going to create a primary and secondary route for the motorcade. You’ve got the press corps that travels with the president, and you don’t want the primary route to be leaked, so you create a secondary route. Then, you coordinate that with the state police; they’re the lead agency as far as the motorcade goes.”

The U.S. Secret Service works with Michigan State Police to determine which freeways and exits to shut down, Williams said.

“There will also be a temporary shutdown of air traffic in the area,” he said.

Bomb-sniffing dogs likely worked around Cobo ahead of the visit, Williams said.

“You do what’s known as a sweep and post; they’ll sweep a certain area for explosives, and then post agents there to make sure nobody leaves behind packages,” he said.

Obama’s scheduled trip, his 17th to Michigan since taking office, will mark at least the third time a sitting president will attend the Detroit auto show. The others were Bill Clinton in 1999 and Dwight D. Eisenhower in the late 1950s.

In an address earlier this month, Obama said he would attend the auto show “to see the progress firsthand. Because I believe that every American should be proud of what our most iconic industry has done.”

The auto show will remain open all day Wednesday despite Obama’s visit, Muncey said.

“Between noon and 4 p.m., there will be light restrictions to access to certain parts of the floor, but it’s nothing that should affect people visiting the show,” he said.

Craig said having the president visit the auto show doesn’t present any unique problems. “It’ll be about the same as any other venue,” he said. “We’ll make sure it’s staffed sufficiently.”

Obama last visited the state in September when he spoke at Macomb Community College to discuss apprenticeship programs and making community college free.

Warren police officers and state troopers helped with the presidential motorcade from Selfridge Air National Guard base in Harrison Township to the college, Warren Police Commissioner Jere Green said.

“Having a president visit is a real responsibility for any law enforcement agency to take on,” he said, adding he deferred to the Secret Service.

“They do it every day, so we basically supplemented them. The Secret Service is totally in charge.”

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said the visit went smoothly. “The disruption of traffic was the biggest complaint; otherwise, everything was flawless.”

Coordinating dignitary details involves planning for the worst and hoping for the best, Williams said.

“The main thing about doing executive protection at such a high level is, everything you do is planning for the worst-case scenario,” he said. “You think what the worst thing that could happen is, and you create a plan for that.

“You know where the closest trauma centers are; the protocol for closing traffic and getting the president to a safety zone, if needed. You don’t want that to happen, but you’re ready in case it does. You can always ramp down; it’s harder to ramp up.”

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