Diplomatic Security Service helped train local police to protect dignitaries

  • Acting U.S. Attorney John Farley played the role of a VIP for of trainees as he exits a car at the New Hampshire Historical Society on Friday morning. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

  • The protection team officers in training surround Special Agent in Charge Jon Davidson (center) of the Diplomatic Security Services Boston Field Office as he plays the VIP official that needs protection as they enter Gibson’€™s Bookstore on Friday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • The advance security team checks out the New Hampshire Historical Society in an exercise for local law enforcement.

Monitor staff
Published: 6/25/2021 8:31:24 PM

A three-car motorcade pulled up outside Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Surprised passersby on North Main Street looked on as plainclothes officers wearing earpieces carefully ushered a man in a navy suit from a limo into the bookstore. As he browsed, his protective entourage surrounded him, preventing other shoppers from getting too close and scouting out emergency exits.

This scene was not an unexpected visit from a political candidate or foreign leader, but an exercise for local law enforcement: the practical exam following a week-long training held by the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service for New England officers.

With offices across the country, including in Boston and Portsmouth, the Diplomatic Security Service is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. State Department. While the Secret Service protects the most high-profile leaders and sitting heads-of-state, the Diplomatic Security Service guards the Secretary of State and former ministers and their spouses, who are still in need of protection.

Two officers from the Concord Police Department and six New Hampshire State Police troopers joined law enforcement officers from Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island this week for the first training of this kind to include federal, state and local agencies from all five states. Members of the Brown and Harvard University police departments also attended.

Over the course of the week, the 25 participating officers practiced driving in a motorcade at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and defending a dignitary in crowded places in Concord.

Five years ago was the last time the Diplomatic Security Service offered one of these trainings for local law enforcement groups. The agency relies on local and state police to help their agents – including the five located in the Portsmouth office – to defend visitors who fall under the State Department’s protection.

“We constantly ask them to provide protective support to our security operations when we have visiting dignitaries that come to the U.S.,” said Jon Davidson, the special agent in charge of the Diplomatic Security Services Boston Field Office, who was acting as a mock dignitary in Gibson’s on Friday. “This also enables them to have specialized knowledge and subject matter expertise, when it comes to them protecting their own mayors, governors, at the state and local level,” Davidson said.

Acting U.S. Attorney John Farley played the role of a second “protectee” for another group of trainees.

On Friday, motorcades traveled to the New Hampshire Historical Society and Rollins Park as well as Gibson’s bookstore. Officers were told to plan ahead for bathroom breaks and tours, while also reacting in the moment to the whims of the mock dignitaries. The ability to perform under stress and quickly detect any signs of danger are key, participants were taught.

“This is the actual final exercise in which we are putting all those skills learned this week together to see how it works,” Davidson said, “and it seems to be working very well.”

While those skills are needed when the Diplomatic Security Service partners with local agencies to protect visiting foreign dignitaries, police can also use these strategies to keep more local VIPs safe.

“New Hampshire is as an important state when it comes to the election season, having the first in the nation primary, which brings in multiple visits from candidates from around the country, almost on a daily basis,” New Hampshire State Police Staff Sergeant Keith Walker said.

Some of the state troopers trained this week work in the Executive Security Unit, which is charged with protecting the governor. The motorcade driving training will also aid state police, since motorcades carrying politicians or presidential candidates can involve up to 100 troopers, Walker said.

“Being able to learn some of the advanced techniques that this agency has shown us is only going to enhance our efforts with them, when we do need to provide security services to them,” Walker said.

While the DSS regularly trains local officers in security techniques at its Foreign Affairs Security Training Center in Blackstone, Virginia, this was the first training held for officers from all five New England states at once. “It’s very crucial to relationship-building, especially coming out of COVID quarantines,” Davidson said.

The DSS paid for the training, including the fully armored vehicles used on Friday, while local agencies paid for officers’ lodging and other expenses during the week.

Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.

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