If (or maybe when) Pope Francis decides to take a detour from his itinerary in Philadelphia, Philly police hope to be the least surprised. They plan to anticipate just about every scenario possible.
“He is the people’s pope. I mean he is a person who likes to get out there and mingle. You don’t know what he’s going to do. I don’t know if he knows what he’s going to do until he does it,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, adding flexibility is a key part of planning when it comes to protecting the pope and the people.
As September’s World Meeting of Families winds down, security will ramp up for the two chances people have to Pope Francis in Philadelphia. First with the Festival of Families on Saturday, Sept. 26 when the pope meets on stage with select families from around the world and ultimately for Sunday’s public Papal Mass. Both events are being held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
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“We know we’re going to get an awful lot of people here. Some estimates as a high as 2 million. That’s an awful lot,” Ramsey said. “Even if it’s half that, I mean that’s an awful lot of people that we have to be able to get in and out and make sure we maintain security and safety of everyone including the pope, obviously.”
Logistical planning has been going on for more than a year and will intensify, Ramsey said, as the pope’s visit to Philadelphia nears. Those plans include sending select Philadelphia police officers to Rome and The Vatican.
“I won’t personally be going,” Ramsey admitted, “but I’ll send the people who are closer to it operationally to make sure they have what they need in order to continue with the planning.”
The pope’s visit is considered a National Special Security Event, which requires the Secret Service and other federal agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security to be involved in the coordinated security effort. Ramsey may also ask for help from officers in other states during the visit.
“We may do that in order to make sure that we maintain our coverage out in the neighborhoods. I can’t draw our entire Philadelphia police department downtown,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey said it’s too far out to talk about specifics like road closures, detours and other planning that will impact area residents and visitors.
“As we get closer, as we know more about what is necessary, we’ll be sure to work with traffic reporters with regular mainstream reporters, we’ll be using social media,” Ramsey said. “We’ll be doing everything we possibly can so that no one is caught off guard, no one is surprised about anything that’s going to affect their ability to move about this city.”