Police report peaceful day at Preakness

A group of friends and family from Elkridge prepared for the Preakness as they have every year for decades. They packed tubs of Rice Krispies treats, shrimp salad, macaroni salad, cashews, soft drinks and a giant bag of Utz chips into their cars and headed to Pimlico Race Course.

But this year, the Boston Marathon bombing was in the back of their minds. Peggy Maher, one of the group, brought her grandson for the first time. Just in case the unthinkable happened, she went over an emergency plan with everyone should they get separated: Meet at Sinai Hospital, a little over a mile away.

"There's a hospital just down the street," said another member of the group, Gordon Dickerson, 57. "We would meet there in front if something happened."

But as police and security worked on high alert in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings April 15 that killed five and injured 280, the 138th Preakness went off without any major trouble.

Local and state law enforcement agencies staffed the event with more officers than they had in several years, Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner John Skinner said, and the result of the enhanced security was an overwhelmingly positive and peaceful day. Police recorded three arrests for disorderly conduct involving two incidents.

"This year, given what happened in Boston, we made some security modifications and improvements, and everything's gone smoothly," said Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

For the first time, Baltimore County police joined a large law enforcement contingent that included city and state police and Maryland Transportation Authority Police at the Preakness, Skinner said. Mounted patrol officers roamed through the infield as the police Foxtrot helicopter hovered overhead. Plainclothes officers mixed into the crowds, while federal law enforcement officials kept updated on intelligence. Police monitored cameras and social media, trying to head off any possible threat.

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts spent much of the day at the track, monitoring deployments and speaking with patrol officers as he went back and forth between the command center at the nearby police academy and Pimlico.

Racegoers for the first time were screened with handheld security wands, which few complained about.

"I didn't find it intrusive at all," Maher said. "Honestly, I was happy to see it."

Neither did many think the screenings slowed things.

"Wasn't any more or less a hassle than an airport," said Peggy Baker of McLean, Va. "Friendly. It didn't feel invasive at all."

Fans were not allowed to carry backpacks or duffel bags this year — a result of the Boston bombings — but they could bring items in smaller, see-through plastic bags or containers. Other items the Maryland Jockey Club banned this year included laser lights and cameras with detachable lenses or lenses longer than 6 inches.

But if you looked through the crowd, there appeared to be many dark-colored bags let in. Nick Murnighan, 67, of Coronado, Calif., who was attending his 38th Preakness in a row, took note of that but said he didn't mind because security personnel seemed thorough, searching those bags. They checked his clear cooler filled with ice, Coke Zero, Coke and Miller Lite cans and breezed him through courteously, he said.

Police had no reports of weapon confiscations, Guglielmi said. Just "a handful" of fans were ejected for alcohol-related incidents, and about two dozen minor medical calls came into Baltimore EMS, Guglielmi said.

"A great, great crowd," said Skinner.

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