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One sure sign the Battle of Flowers Parade is on: The sounds of wailing sirens. The sirens build and are joined by the sight of flashing lights as a phalanx of uniformed riders from the San Antonio Police Department Motorcycle Unit come into view. The crowds get noisy at the arrival of the parade vanguard.
The motorcycle cops come along at a crawl, waving to the crowd, leaving one gloved hand to balance their Honda Gold Wing rides, not an easy thing to do when your 1800 cc machine weighs more than 900 pounds. It’s a nice public relations move for the department to be part of the parade.
The rest of this city’s cops are working. Look around: there isn’t a corner where there aren’t uniformed police taking care of traffic flow, crowd control and watching for the unexpected.
It’s the unexpected that I had in mind Friday as I eased my road bike through the crowd on Main Plaza awaiting the next marching band or float. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a cop watching as I took off my backpack and set it on the ground, preparing to take on a load of chicken tacos and barbecue sandwiches to take back to our offices at the Weston Centre.
That’s when I had the thought: What’s it like, just weeks after the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing, to be a San Antonio cop at the Battle of Flowers Parade that probably draws 300,000 people? And there’s the next parade and the next one: King William Fair on Saturday morning and the Fiesta Flambeau Saturday night.
It’s an axiom that law enforcement must always take into account the latest incident somewhere else and ask: Are we ready if the same thing happens here? I’m sure that San Antonio police officials have spent plenty of time in recent weeks analyzing events in Boston and reviewing security procedures and incident response plans here. We parade goers take for granted that police will keep us safe when we join such huge public gatherings. But we seldom pause to consider how much work and stress goes into keeping the public safe.
Newcomers to San Antonio would have few ways of knowing that in 1979 a gunman opened fire during the battle of Flowers Parade, and before he took his own life in the trailer he used as his sniper nest, there were two women dead from gunshot wounds and 17 others with serious injuries, including five San Antonio policemen. There also were tales of police heroism in this darkest moment in Fiesta history. You can read former Express-News reporter Lomi Kriel’s recap story here.
Along the parade route this year, I watched as people applauded and waved back as the motorcycle cops came by. The crowd response was enthusiastic and genuine. Kids seemed especially thrilled, shouting out attention-getting greetings, some probably imagining themselves as brave cops on big rides. I have no way of actually knowing, but I do believe that people’s reaction Friday, at some deep level, had something to do with the fact that we all know what the people of Boston and that city’s police have been through this month.
Everyone has a story about an unfair traffic ticket or the time a cop was rude or rough – and there are bad cops just like there are bad mechanics and bad cooks. But San Antonio Police Chief William McManus – who arrived here seven Fiestas ago – and his 3,000 uniformed and civilian workers are pretty much like everyone else: friendly, hard-working family people who love their city and appreciate a little respect and acknowledgement.
So, while the rest of us Fiesta, the police are on the beat. Each one of us can let them know we appreciate that. I’ve never heard a cop turn down a “thanks for being here and doing your job.” Try it this Fiesta.