Every measure was being taken to protect him during the rally. Divine Fury.
May 7, 2013
A VG Serial: Divine Fury
WINNING THE STATEWIDE primary election more than two weeks earlier had been almost a formality. But the victory propelled Andrew Harper unequivocally into the national spotlight and cemented his status as the darling of San Francisco. The growing realization that the city might have one of its own in the governor’s mansion in California, together with the historic nature of his candidacy, galvanized the city.
The crowds attending Harper’s events in the city were enormous now and the excitement was palpable. Particularly in the Castro, the center of the city’s gay culture, enthusiasm seemed to pour through the streets. Harper posters and bumper stickers adorned every telephone pole and storefront. In the wee hours, groups of revelers heading home would serenade each other in the streets to the chants of “Har-per! Har-per! Har-per!” ending in a cheer and clenched fists held high in the air.
The evening rally at Justin Herman Plaza was a delayed victory celebration of sorts. Harper had had the usual hotel ballroom event on election day – television interviews, victory speech and concession phone calls from defeated rivals. But this would be outside, public and massive. The newspapers and television stations had been touting the event for the past week.
The plaza was in the densely populated financial district and always held a sizable lunch-time crowd. Now, those many thousands pouring out of the high-rise office buildings would swell the crowd at the evening rally. The timing – the beginning of Pride Week – just upped the significance. The Harper rally would be the kickoff to the entire week of celebration.
The SFPD chief gave Bobbie Connors the task of coordinating the security to make sure Andrew Harper was still breathing at the end of Pride Week. He’d given her an additional 40 officers to staff the rally, the first major event, effectively doubling the normal detail.
Connors’ designation was not only a huge show of faith in her personally, it also reflected the chief’s shrewd practical and political calculations. Connors knew Harper and his campaign staff well and so had the best chance to avoid being surprised by any sudden changes the campaign made. New speech. New fundraiser. Anything like that.
Connor also had the best chance of convincing Harper to accept changes that could increase his safety. Shorten a speech. Move the podium to a safer position. Perhaps even wear a bullet-proof vest on occasion. She could use her personal relationship in addition to her official role.
Finally, if the worst happened and Harper was harmed or killed, Connors would serve as a lightning rod to lessen the fallout on the chief and his department. She was the highest profile gay or lesbian in the force. No one would question her commitment to protect Harper. A statement from her saying the department had done everything possible to protect the candidate would be gold.
The way Connors analyzed security for the rally, there were two main possibilities: Small gun or big gun. The small gun scenario involved a hand gun and a guy somewhere in the crowd to use it. He’d have to get close. Even 20 yards was a long way to hit someone when you had to shoot quickly and you couldn’t steady your arm on the ground or against a wall. The big gun scenario required some place where the shooter could set up at a distance, like a rooftop, balcony or an opened window. A lesser possibility, now that she knew to search for it, was a bomb. Repeat inspections of the speaker’s platform and maintaining a healthy perimeter around Harper should suffice. There would be no pressing the flesh at this event, just in case the guy was crazy enough to try a suicide bombing.
The plaza was partially bounded by office buildings. From the speaker’s platform, Harper would have the 45-story Embarcadero Center Four at his back. His view to the right would be partially blocked by the Hyatt Regency Hotel – 20 floors plus a rotating restaurant on top. Past the sunken concrete plaza in front and beyond a long open area of grass and the busy waterfront roadway sat the old Ferry Building. The historic structure was several stories high. It had been renovated recently and turned into a modern office building with shops and restaurants on the ground floor.
Toward the rear of the plaza, where Harper would gaze out to his left, was the Vaillancourt Fountain, a whimsical landmark that looked like a tumble of children’s blocks sitting in a puddle of water. Except these were hollow and big enough to walk inside. Water piped inside drained out as waterfalls as high as 20 feet that splashed into the pool below.
Most of Connors’ problem was solved by modern high-rise architecture with internal ventilation systems and windows that were permanently sealed. That took the office building, hotel and Ferry Building mostly out of play. An accurate, long-distance shot through a thick pane of commercial glass wasn’t feasible. Thousands of potential locations would be useless for a sniper. A dozen officers could cover the elevated positions, she figured, mostly stationed on the roofs.
The remaining 28 extra officers would be split. Half would extend the crowd control perimeter, standing on the outskirts of the plaza and watching for any suspicious behavior looking outward from their positions. Someone could try a long-distance shot from the street level outside the plaza but they would be exposed and have difficulty getting a clear sight line. Crowds would be packed in front of them and Connors would use her influence with the campaign to make sure hundreds of Harper campaign signs were waving in the air in front of Harper during the rally.
The final 14 officers would be packed in closer to the speaker platform. Eight would be uniformed and wearing full riot gear. Most of the crowd would view them as the normal police presence. But a potential killer trying to get close to Harper would see them as a formidable obstacle and know they were on high alert.
Connors would be among the final six, all wearing plainclothes. Five of them would be stationed on or around the speaker’s platform itself. The only exception was Connors. From the moment the candidate left his limousine outside Justin Herman Plaza, she would be at Andrew Harper’s side.
Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
You can learn more about Divine Fury on Amazon.