With images of the disruptive protests during meetings of the World Trade Organization in Seattle and World Bank in Washington, D.C., still fresh in their minds, law enforcement authorities in Los Angeles are quietly launching a full-scale mobilization in preparation for this summer's Democratic convention.
Local and national activists, too, are mobilizing for what some are dubbing "the Battle of Los Angeles," emboldened by their successes in winning international media attention while disrupting the economic summits on both coasts.
Both sides say they hope peace will prevail when Democratic leaders meet Aug. 14-17 at Staples Center to nominate Al Gore as the party's standard-bearer in the November presidential election.
But, just in case, both sides also are preparing for the worst.
The Los Angeles Police Department, the FBI, the Secret Service and a host of other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have been working together for months to forge a cohesive response plan in case protests get out of hand.
Authorities are gathering and sharing intelligence on activist and protest groups, with particular attention to the possibility of more serious attacks, such as bombings and biochemical terrorism, officials said in interviews last week.
"There's a message that needs to be sent, and that is that the law enforcement community in Los Angeles will be prepared to deal with any civil unrest or any other incidents that may occur," said Special Agent James V. DeSarno Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles field office.
Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks added: "Certainly, we have to have contingency plans for any potentiality."
Activists, meanwhile, are putting out the call for protesters to flood the downtown area around Staples Center during the convention.
Some already have enlisted a network of lawyers to defend their right to protest in the streets rather than in a designated "demonstration area" planned by city officials and the Democratic National Committee, and to bail them out of jail, if they are arrested.
"The Constitution is not set aside for the week the Democrats are in town," said Jim Lafferty, executive director of the Los Angeles office of the National Lawyers Guild.
Even if they are entirely peaceful, the demonstrations could give Los Angeles a black eye because activists want to showcase the city as "Exhibit A" in their case against economic globalization.
"L.A. is a good reflection of the injustices of the global economy," said activist Leone Hankey, "because L.A. is one of the most globalized cities in the world."
As was the case in Washington and Seattle, protesters are expected to come by the thousands to proclaim their views about everything from world economic policies and labor issues to environmental degradation.
Because it is a political convention, they are expected to join the crowd: politicians, delegates, 15,000 media representatives and the usual assortment of fringe groups, hate groups, activists of all stripes and counterdemonstrators.
In preparation, authorities must balance their need to gather intelligence on potential troublemakers with individuals' right to freedom of association and from improper invasion of their privacy.
Once the convention gets underway, front-line police officers must walk another thin line: balancing protesters' 1st Amendment rights to assemble with the rights of others to pursue their lives and work in the areas around the convention.
In Seattle last fall, as many as 45,000 demonstrators converged on the downtown area where World Trade Organization delegates were meeting. Some protesters taunted police and went on vandalism rampages, causing more than $15 million in damage. Ultimately, scenes of rioting, looting and police brutality were broadcast worldwide.
The Seattle police chief resigned soon after the protests, and the department concluded earlier this month that it was unprepared to deal with a "well-trained and equipped adversary" that used the Internet, cell phones and walkie-talkies to marshal troops.
In contrast, when protesters tried to shut down the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in the U.S. Capitol last week, authorities more tightly controlled the situation by shutting down surrounding streets and telling government employees to stay home.
The Washington, D.C., Police Department was successful, authorities say, because it mounted a large and visible show of force. It also staged preemptive strikes, arresting hundreds of activists and shutting down their headquarters for alleged fire safety violations--a tactic that drew sharp criticism from demonstrators and civil libertarians.
LAPD Seeks Lessons in Washington, Seattle
The LAPD has studied both cities' experiences carefully, Parks said. It sent six representatives from its patrol and special response units to Washington to monitor the police activity firsthand, and to report back on what lessons can be learned.