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Coast Guard Kept Scrambling : N.Y. Waters Roiled but Streets Peaceful

July 05, 1986|MAURA DOLAN and SIOBHAN FLYNN | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — Liberty Weekend boating accidents in the crowded harbor here kept Coast Guardsmen scrambling Friday but city streets were peaceful, law enforcement officers said.

"It's unusually quiet," a police dispatcher said.

Police monitored a gay-rights demonstration, calmed anxious parents of lost children, coaxed drunk spectators off rooftops and responded to auto accidents. But there were no arrests involving the celebration, police said.

12-Hour Shifts

Most of the law enforcement problems were on the water. Throughout the harbor, 1,000 Coast Guardsmen working 12-hour shifts responded to hundreds of calls: boats with tangled anchors, boats crashing into other boats, boats on fire, boats out of gas.

On Thursday night, Coast Guard medics had nine medical emergencies on vessels, including two heart attacks that resulted in death and three injuries in which people suffered crushed or amputated fingers on boat lines and rigging.

There are more than 30,000 law enforcement officers here for the four-day weekend and so far no major problems have occurred. Police presence has been concentrated at spots near the celebration sites.

Police Barricades

At a subway station in Battery Park, about 100 police officers stood in an area that on a normal day would have had only one. Outside, police manned barricades to prevent spectators from moving into unauthorized areas.

On Governors Island, where President Reagan and other dignitaries gathered Friday and Saturday, police divers combed the depths of surrounding waters in search of terrorist traps. Secret Service officers seemed to be everywhere. Shortly before 10 a.m., four Coast Guard boats, two U.S. Customs boats and two Harbor Police vessels formed a protective barrier around a spot on the island where Reagan was to speak.

The Coast Guard had supplemented its forces with seamen from Ohio, Maine and Virginia.

Gasoline Barge

The 27 different law enforcement agencies helping maintain security had competing needs at times. On Friday morning, the Secret Service asked the Coast Guard to move a floating gasoline barge lest someone shoot it and trigger an explosion while Reagan passed nearby on a battleship.

"Do they say where they want it moved?" a weary Coast Guard officer asked skeptically after receiving the request.

Coast Guard ferries moving spectators from Governors Island to Brooklyn have been slowed by the presidential comings and goings. Late Thursday night, a tired, cold crowd of several hundred celebrants threatened to become an angry mob after waiting nearly an hour to board a ferry.

"Liberty Weekend" organizers said that the Secret Service kept the ferries away from the island until the White House party had departed, thereby leaving the elegantly dressed crowd standing crushed together at a dock with no boat in sight.

Officials Cursed

Men and women who had endured unseasonably cold winds during the long opening ceremonies screamed and cursed officials who tried to ensure an orderly procession once the ferry had arrived. "Let us in," they shouted.

But a party mood generally kept police problems to a minimum.

"It's been a festive atmosphere out there and there have been no problems," said New York Police Officer Steven Watters. "We're talking 1.5-million people along the coastal areas and police officers on just about every corner."

Times researchers Tony Robinson and Seth Cooper contributed to this story.

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