Niagara Gazette

June 23, 2010

A different kind of backup at the border

Falls police working with state and federal law enforcement to prepare for G8-G20 protesters

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

NIAGARA FALLS — The names sound like something out of a John Grisham novel.

Operation Spider. Operation Stonegarden. Operation Outbound.

Yet all these “operations” are under way right now in the Cataract City as Falls cops, along with federal and state law enforcement authorities, gear up for what is expected to be an influx of protesters heading across the border to Canada for the G8 and G20 summits this week and weekend.

“Everybody realized pretty quickly that if Canada doesn’t let these protesters in, they aren’t going to go home,” said Falls police Lt. Kelly Rizzo. ‘They’re likely to stay here in the Falls and we’ve certainly been the backdrop for international protests before.”

Rizzo, who is coordinating the work of Falls police officers with New York State Police troopers, Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection agents and investigators from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said incidents such as the Rainforest Action Network’s protest at the state park in September and a Green Peace demonstration here a decade ago convinced the law enforcement agencies there was a need to be prepared.

“I think Toronto is going to have a problem,” Rizzo said. “Here (in the Falls) it’s a question of if (there are protests). In Toronto, it’s a question of when (the protests start and will they be violent).”

More than 7 miles of steel fencing and hundreds of concrete jersey barriers mark the outer security zone around the Metro Toronto Convention center where the G20 leaders will meet on Saturday and Sunday. The Canadian government estimates it will spend about a billion dollars for security between the summit locations in Toronto and Muskoka, Ont.

The costs locally are much less and being borne primarily by state and federal law enforcement who are reimbursing the costs of Falls police.

“That is an added benefit for the city with the feds and the state paying the costs,” Falls police Superintendent John Chella said. “I’m very pleased with all the cooperation and consideration.”

While the odds of trouble here are less than those north of the border, Chella says the value the operations should not be underestimated.

“(The operations) are important because if you don’t do it and something happens, you’re in trouble,” he said. “Better to be prepared than just reacting.”

Rizzo said he, the department’s Field Intelligence Officer Karl Brusino and their state and federal counterparts took a long, hard look, including film study, at the demonstrations that followed the 1999 World Trade Organization Conference in Seattle and the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in September. The veteran lieutenant said he was surprised by the planning and preparation undertaken by the demonstrators.

“They held a pre-conference on how to protest,” Rizzo said. “They discussed how to infiltrate police by posing as ‘citizen journalists’, what to do to push the buttons of police officers, how far you can go in confronting the police before you get arrested, even how to ‘vocally project’ and yell all day without losing your voice.”

While not revealing the specifics of the various security operations under way, Rizzo did discuss the primary activities involving Falls police.

Operation Spider is a joint NFPD-State Police program that is designed to enhance security at the border crossings by gathering intelligence on the presence of protesters here. Officers are looking to gauge the number of potential protesters, their locations and what plans they may have.

Investigators say they have identified certain protest movements, such as anarchists who engage in so-called “Black Bloc” tactics, that are likely to engage in acts of violence and criminal mischief. The ability to isolate protesters like that can help maintain the peace.

“We want to make sure they can protest,” Rizzo said, “without infringing on anyone’s rights.”

Operation Stonegarden focuses on “keeping the U.S.-Canadian border shoreline clear.” It features marine and air patrols and a ground component involving Falls Police with Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection agents.  

Perhaps the most visible part of the beefed up security is Operation Outbound. Rizzo says it’s a modification of program presently in place that has Falls narcotics detectives working in the traffic lanes on the Rainbow Bridge (Buffalo Police are manning the Peace Bridge and Lewiston Police are on the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge) to detect more than just drug trafficking.

“We’ve worked the outbound lanes looking for drugs or cash before, but know we’re looking to identify anarchists,” Rizzo said. “There are drug sniffing K-9s, bomb-sniffing K-9s, and other kinds of technology out there.”

On Tuesday, Rizzo said Canadians returning home across the Rainbow Bridge were not surprised by the heightened security.

“Yeah, they just cruised up, saw us and said, ‘Ah, the G20 right?’,” Rizzo said. “They were good-natured about it.”

The operations will continue through the end of the summits on Sunday. Rizzo said no matter what happens in the next four days, city cops will benefit.

“If something happens, hopefully we’re prepared,” he said. “If nothing happens, it’s still been a great training exercise.”