A peek inside the G20 war chest
In an impressive show of strength this morning, the G20's Integrated Security Unit (ISU) showcased the myriad officers, resources and equipment in its arsenal for the G20 summit.
When it came to law enforcement personnel, it was the whole kit and caboodle: there were cops on bikes, cops on horseback, cops with riot gear, cops with German Shepherds, and yes, even cops with the LRADs, or long range acoustic devices (the so-called sound cannons). There were units from the Canadian Forces, Peel Police, Toronto Police, Ontario Provincial Police, the city's Emergency Task Force and the province's CBRN response team (which reacts to threats of the chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear kind).
The ISU held its "technical briefing" for media at the Toronto Police College at 70 Birmingham St. Reporters and camera crews were asked to stand behind a metal barrier as the various police and army units flexed their muscles and demonstrated what Torontonians "may be exposed to and experience during the summit."
Here is what we saw:
Motorcades: Reports have estimated there will be as many as 83 motorcades during the summit, each of which could involve 10 to 50 cars. The motorcades are sure to snarl traffic from June 24 to 27 as dignitaries move between Pearson Airport, the G8 in Huntsville and the G20 at Toronto's Metro Convention Centre.
In the demo, each VIP vehicle was book-ended by police cruisers and officers on motorcycles. Several other police officers also rode ahead to block off roads for the motorcades to pass through. It was a highly choreographed affair and as the motorcade prepared to drive away, the officer at the front commanded "Fire 'em up" into his headset and each vehicle gunned its engine nearly in unison.
Crowd control: The police response to an escalating crowd seems to happen in stages.
In the demonstration, eight police officers on bicycles rode in formation and lined up to create a human barricade. Next, a riot squad marched in with its shields up and stood behind the officers with bicycles in two perpendicular rows, creating a kind of u-shaped formation. Riot police on horseback then followed and stood at the back; according to Const. Wendy Drummond, the mounted police units will be deployed 24 hours a day during the summit for crowd management purposes.
The police officers on bicycles then proceeded to lift their front wheels as riot officers moved to the front. It was at this point that two officers used a "handheld" LRAD device to communicate their message to the imaginary crowd:
"This is the Toronto Police Service. I'm asking you to vacate to your right in an orderly fashion down Birmingham St."
LRADs: Police emphasized that their four recently purchased LRADs are not weapons and will be used as a communication devices, with the alert function deployed for no more than five seconds as a way of getting people's attention. Police say they will use the alert function if necessary but will not deploy it on crowds or protesters standing 10 metres away.
Of the four LRADs purchased by Toronto police, three are the 100X model. These versions can reach amplitudes of 135 decibels for anyone standing one metre in front of the device; they are referred to as the handheld models but really look more like black backpacks worn on the front.
Two officers are required to operate the LRADs -- one who wears the device and a "public order commander" who speaks into the microphone and determines at what strength to calibrate the alerts. Police say 24 officers are currently being trained to use the LRADs.
The first demonstration of the LRAD was only at half-strength, about 70 dB, and the sound was underwhelming at best. I could barely even hear it from about 20 metres away and had to move closer to the device in order to hear the messages being broadcast.
Police officers demonstrated the LRADs a second time, however, this time dialling the volume to full strength and standing at a distance of about one city block away. This time, they spoke into the loudspeaker while panning the LRAD from side to side because the device creates a "tunnel" of sound -- when the LRADs point away from you the noise is actually quite muted. When you stand in its path, however, it is like having a speaker right up against your ear.
During the full-strength demonstration, the alert was also sounded for a few seconds at full force. It was a loud blip that was irritating and jarring, making a few reporters jump. The sound was certainly piercing but tolerable; however, if it were to run for longer than five seconds, it would certainly become less than bearable.
Special operations: The Toronto Police Emergency Task Force (ETF) has eight special weapons teams, complete with negotiators, snipers, sniper spotters, rappel experts and CBRN-certified officers that can respond to hazardous materials, bomb threats and the like. The Emergency Task Force units will be located within the "interdicted zone" just outside the RCMP-controlled summit site.
Staff Insp. Dave Marks wouldn't disclose how many ETF officers will be working at the summit but confirmed the force has about 100 officers in total. Its marine unit, which will have the larger 300x LRAD at its disposal, will be patrolling the lake to potentially "assault other vessels," according to Marks.
The Ontario Police will also have its Urban Search and Rescue and CBRN teams working at the summits, with about 24 trained officers across the two units. Among its capabilities are:
- "Obstruction removal" -- protesters often use machinery to lock themselves to trucks, railways or even ships, and a specialized team will be on hand to dislodge and remove them.
- Rescue -- in the event of a large structural collapse, a rescue team, complete with three dog handlers, will be available for search and rescue missions.
- Hazardous materials response -- travelling CBRN units will be equipped with everything from $500,000 bomb-disarming robots to portable labs for testing hazardous substances.
K-9 units: Toronto police will have 22 dog handlers with 34 police dogs at its disposal. The Belgian Shepherd Malinois and German Shepherds are trained to do everything from detecting explosives and firearms to "criminal apprehension."
Canadian Forces: The Canadian Forces' contingent for the G20 will be mainly stationed at Pearson where it will conduct foot patrols with other units, mostly from Peel Police. Soldiers will be be dressed in full fatigues and armed with C7A1 rifles for self defence, according to public affairs officer Captain John-Hugh MacDonald.
"(Soldiers will) provide surveillance and observe, and provide early warning to law enforcement," he said.
EMS and Fire Services: It will be all hands on deck for Toronto EMS during the summit as all staff has been asked not to book vacation during the G20 week. There will be EMS buses available to respond to mass injuries -- these vehicles are capable of holding eight people on stretchers although some can be converted into seating to accommodate more patients. The bus is meant to serve as a large ambulance but can also be converted to a field hospital, if necessary.
In the event of a mass contamination, like tear gas contaminations, EMS will be operating inside the "cold zone" -- because tear gas can be passed from person to person, exposed victims should be decontaminated before entering an ambulance to be taken to hospital.
The fire department will be operating in the "hot zone" however, and serve as the first responders to tear gas victims. Captain Bill Casey said the fire department has mobile tents it can set up in the event of tear gas contaminations.