Hofstra presidential debate security tighter than '08

Preparations continue for the second presidential debate at Preparations continue for the second presidential debate at Mack Arena at Hofstra University in Hempstead. (Oct. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Security for Tuesday's showdown at Hofstra University between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney will be even tighter than in 2008, the last time the school hosted the debate, officials said.

Unlike in 2008, a sitting president will be on campus, and officials point out that the emergence of groups that didn't exist in 2008, from the left-leaning Occupy Wall Street to the right-wing tea party, could make for an increase in the number of political protests.

"You have Occupy, you have the tea party movement," said Insp. Kenneth Lack, Nassau County Police Department chief spokesman. "The economy is worse.

"We could have more protesters than we had in 2008," Lack said. "It's a different world than in '08."

But just like last time, Nassau taxpayers will be on the hook for what's estimated to exceed $600,000 in county police overtime because no one reimburses local municipalities for security costs.

Detectives, patrolmen, emergency-services and special operations officers, and hazardous-materials experts will work in and around the debate site, Hofstra's David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex, Lack said.

"Almost every unit in the police department, in one way, shape or form, is contributing to this," he said.

Nassau spent about $612,000 -- most, if not all of it -- on police overtime for 2008's debate between Obama and Sen. John McCain, Lack said.

"Chances are, it's going to be higher," he said of the cost to the county. "The detail is larger."

Lack would say only that the number of officers is "significant," and the U.S. Secret Service also declined to provide figures.

At the 2008 debate, 15 demonstrators were charged with disorderly conduct, an anti-war protester who is also a war veteran was knocked unconscious in a melee involving a police horse, and mounted officers pushed back a group of about 200 protesters.

As in 2008, the officers assigned to debate detail will be "responding to any large crowds or disorderly groups," Lack said.

"It happened in 2008, and there's nothing to think it wouldn't happen again in 2012," Lack said of protests.

In Colorado, where the University of Denver hosted Obama and Romney's first debate earlier this month, the local police department made no arrests and issued no citations, said Denver police spokeswoman Raquel Lopez.

Nassau sent a high-ranking police official to the Denver debate to observe the security operation there, Lack said.

Hofstra will have a designated public area about one-fifth of a mile east of Hofstra's gates on Hempstead Turnpike for protests and speeches, and for demonstrators to assemble if they want. Preregistration was required.

That's constitutionally inadequate, says the Town of Hempstead Democratic Committee, which sued on First Amendment grounds that the group was wrongly denied a permit to rally outside Hofstra on debate night. The Democrats lost in court, but they say they are working with the Obama campaign to secure themselves a better rally site, said Gary Carlton of Valley Stream, a local Democratic committeeman and attorney who argued the case.

Meanwhile, Denver is still tabulating the dollar figure for the extra security, said Mary Dulacki of the city's safety manager office.

"Last I heard," Dulacki said, "It was a gazillion."

With Candice Ferrette

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