Fong: Torch route was a last-minute decision

April 10, 2008 7:06:21 PM PDT
San Francisco Police are calling Wednesday's torch run a success from a security standpoint. The chief of police also says the route change was made at the last minute, without any pre-planning.

Police Chief Heather Fong held a news conference Thursday afternoon at the Hall of Justice in which she praised her officers for responding so quickly to what she called a last-minute decision to change the torch relay to an unplanned and untested route. Others also familiar with police tactics had high praise for her strategy.

"We avoided any kind of confrontation with the demonstrators. We achieved the objective of having a torch run," says former San Francisco Police Sgt. Nelson Lum.

Lum trained officers in crowd control. He believes yesterday's police strategy was successful. So does Police Chief Heather Fong.

"At certain points, there were groups that were of opposing views who actually came in conflict with each other. It started verbally and then officers had to physically separate them," says Chief Fong.

Chief Fong says the possibility of violence between the growing numbers of pro-China and Tibetan independence groups helped sway the decision to move the relay route. Another reason is that protesters on the Embarcadero began spilling out into the streets.

"People did not heed the directions of the officers to move from the medians back to the barricades lines." Chief Fong says she was left with only two options. "If we don't take that route, do we not have a torch relay or do we try and come up with another route?"

Lum also believes she had two options. "One was just to send a platoon of officers into the crowd and either disperse them or arrest them. The second option was the one they took."

The chief says the route change was not a pre-planned contingency. It was made at the last minute. "This was a spontaneous route with a number of us talking to one another saying, 'what are the circumstances that we need?"

But Lum says that's unusual. Police always have backup plans for demonstrations, especially high profile events. "It was based upon prior planning and based upon the last-minute information gathered and based upon public safety," he says.

Chief Fong says city officials had met with Chinese officials prior to the torch run, but denied reports circulating that they influenced the last-minute changes. "We had a number of discussions about if there was violence on the route, what we would do. If potentially actions were such that made it that we could not turn the relay around."

The chief says she never discussed moving the torch relay from the Embarcadero in any of her meetings with Chinese officials. She also says the testimonial to the success of her strategy is that police made only five arrests and there were no major incidents.


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