Pope Francis: Photo courtesy Catholic News Service
The Papal visit to our community is a historic event. Due to our communities being sister cities, and the proximity of the event to El Paso, we have to take steps to insure the safety of everyone, including Pope Francis. Most importantly, the El Paso Police Department has met with the U.S. Secret Service from the onset on this plan.
The Secret Service is the federal safety coordinator for the event. The decision to close the area was reviewed by the Secret Service and accepted as an appropriate response, for safety of the community with the available personnel to handle the event. In addition TXDOT made it clear that they would not allow people on the Border Highway or on the overpasses.
In the event of an emergency, Border Highway has to be used for emergency personnel to respond. The closure of it ensures that the highway will remain available for the quick movement of first responders should an emergency arise in the area.
It is true that there are portions of the “jumbotrons” that can be seen from El Paso, and it may even be possible to catch a glance of the structure where the Pope will be, from the El Paso side. However, these spots are small and will not accommodate large masses. They present many dangers and jurisdictional challenges.
In Philadelphia, the viewing route was for several miles, and easily accommodated large groups. The total possible viewing areas in El Paso combined are less than a mile. The viewing spots are not capable of holding more than small groups at best.
Allowing persons to these areas would place those viewers at danger due to the natural and manmade barriers that are associated with a border; such as the river, highway, railroad, a canal, and the border fence. We also understand that with the excitement of this historic visit, an emotional response will lead the crowd forward, in an attempt for a closer view leading to the possibility of other viewers being trampled and seriously injured.
The most vulnerable are the elderly, children and those with any disabilities. We understand that most in our community are welcoming this visit, but we must also remember that there could be an individual with other intentions easily mixed in a large crowd.
Our challenge is the safety of everyone, and at times, it is not easily understood by the general public.