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Oscars to Be Blanketed by Security

Measures seen on presidential visits will be deployed, police say, including closed-circuit cameras on streets and crowd-scan devices.

March 19, 2003|Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

Security at Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood will be the tightest and most extensive in the 75-year history of the event, Los Angeles Police Department officials said Tuesday.

"On that night, in that place, they are probably safer than any other place they can be," said John Miller, head of the LAPD's new homeland security bureau.

The preparations for the Oscars came as officials heightened security at other prominent Southern California locations and Los Angeles City Council members voted to spend $4.4 million to buy protective suits, masks, and radiation detection equipment for police and firefighters.

Federal aviation officials banned planes from descending lower than 3,000 feet within three miles of Disneyland, a move they described as a precaution and not as a response to any specific threat.

But officials at John Wayne Airport reversed course Tuesday, saying all access roads to the Orange County facility will remain open today. On Monday, airport officials had announced that the Michelson Drive entrance and the ramp from the San Diego Freeway would be closed as a precautionary measure.

Airport spokeswoman Ann McCarley said some security measures, including road closures, are instituted based on directives from the Transportation Security Administration. She said there was no directive from the TSA to block any vehicle entrances despite the heightened threat level because of the U.S. government's ultimatum to Iraq.

Cars entering parking structures, however, will be subject to random inspections, and other increased security measures will be put in place, McCarley said.

The FAA's restrictions on flights over Disneyland and Disney World in Orlando, Fla., came as a surprise to park officials, said Disneyland spokeswoman Marilyn Waters.

"This was news to us," she said. "We called the Department of Homeland Security, and they said there was no new information about a specific or credible threat to Disneyland."

As federal authorities tightened airspace access, law enforcement officials serving California stepped up patrols and visibility.

Off the coast near the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Diego County, Coast Guard cutters have been added to the usual patrols.

At the Port of Los Angeles, police patrols have been increased by a third since President Bush demanded the resignation of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on Monday night, port officials said. In addition, the LAPD has stepped up patrols of the area's refineries. Police Chief William J. Bratton also increased the number of officers assigned to Los Angeles International Airport from 50 to 80 at peak hours.

Officials familiar with the security plans for the Academy Awards said that more than 1,000 local, state, federal and private security personnel will be involved. Miller would not specify a number.

For the first time, the celebrities' televised arrivals on a red carpet will be eliminated, and Academy President Frank Pierson said Tuesday night that although there are no plans to postpone the event, postponement remains a possibility.

Officials said that also for the first time, closed-circuit cameras are in place so police can monitor all streets around the event site.

The cameras will cover "every square inch" surrounding the Kodak Theatre, said LAPD Capt. Mike Downing of the Hollywood Division. "Nothing will move inside or outside this theater without us knowing."

The 9th Civil Support Team from the National Guard, based in Los Alamitos, will be on the scene to lend support. The unit, which has been used at the Super Bowl and World Series, is trained to respond to chemical, biological and radiological attacks.

All hotel or hostel rooms overlooking the event have been taken by the Academy of Motion Picture and Sciences. Area buildings will be secured by Sunday, and law enforcement officers will patrol the rooftops -- steps officials described as comparable to those taken before a presidential visit.

Similarly, anyone entering the Kodak Theatre or standing along Hollywood Boulevard should be prepared to be stopped and searched -- regardless of how recognizable they are, officials said.

Searches will come on top of background checks FBI agents have conducted on virtually everyone with permission to enter the ceremony's immediate area, including limousine drivers and theater staff.

Police officers plan to use devices capable of scanning crowds for radiological devices and metal weapons outside the theater.

A permit for an antiwar demonstration has been issued for Orange Drive south of Sunset Boulevard, a few blocks from the ceremony. The permit allows up to 2,000 protesters, although LAPD officials said they are preparing for a much larger crowd.

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