By Donald Wittkowski
Tom Strunk recalled how he stood only a few feet away from Barack Obama as the president strode up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., during the Inauguration Day Parade in January 2013.
One of Jeffrey Doto’s most vivid memories of the parade was when Vice President Joe Biden walked by members of the Ocean City Police Department and acknowledged them with a salute.
For Strunk and Doto, both patrolmen with the Ocean City police, it was a monumental day in Washington – one that gave them a close-up view of history in the making. They were part of the massive national police force that helped to protect Obama, Biden and other dignitaries during the parade.
Strunk and Doto will again witness a historic event in Washington, this time as a new president, Donald Trump, makes his way up Pennsylvania Avenue on Friday for the grand parade that will mark his inauguration.
“Certainly, we can all look back and tell our kids about it,” said Doto, a 16-year police veteran.
Doto, Strunk and 11 other members of the Ocean City Police Department left for Washington on Wednesday morning to take on another prestigious assignment: Once again, they will be standing guard and helping with crowd control during the inaugural parade.
“At one point, you’re only a couple of feet away from the president of the United States,” said Sgt. Pat Randles, who will supervise the Ocean City police contingent in Washington.
Randles and other Ocean City officers were part of the security for Obama’s first inaugural parade in January 2009. Ocean City’s police department was invited back for the 2013 inauguration. Now, it has been called to Washington a third time.
Somers Point, Wildwood and Middle Township are among other local police departments in Atlantic and Cape May counties that are sending officers to Washington for Trump’s inauguration.
Strunk, a seven-year police veteran, remembers how calm and peaceful it was for Obama’s parade in 2013. He estimated he stood only 15 feet away from Obama.
“It was exciting to be that close to the president of the United States,” he said.
For Trump’s inauguration, Strunk expects the atmosphere to be tenser, perhaps even hostile, following the nasty and raucous presidential election that divided the country. Protests are planned by Trump opponents.
“This time, I think there will be more hostility, in general, from the crowd,” Strunk said. “That’s the general feeling that I got from the media.”
Strunk emphasized that police officers “should always have a heightened sense of awareness” when dealing with large crowds, especially when it comes to protecting the president and other high-level members of the U.S. government.
Doto characterized the 2013 inauguration as a “great experience.” In recalling Biden’s salute to the Ocean City officers, he noted that Biden’s wife, Jill, has Ocean City connections. When she was growing up, she and her family would make summer beach trips to Ocean City.
As exciting as the inaugural parade may be, Doto stressed that he and the other officers can’t be swept up in the hoopla and pageantry while they are on duty.
“It’s about protecting the position and the integrity of the president of the United States,” he said.
To prepare for their parade duties, the officers are scheduled to receive special training Thursday at the Washington National Guard Armory.
They are scheduled to report for duty at 4 a.m. on inauguration day and will work between 16 and 18 hours helping out with crowd control and security for the parade route. They will return to Ocean City on Saturday.
The Washington Metropolitan Police Department will pay all of the travel, hotel and meal expenses for Ocean City’s officers, as well as their salaries.
“We have no out-of-pocket expenses for the event,” Ocean City Police Capt. Jay Prettyman said.
With so many of the officers heading to Washington for the parade, there will be some rescheduling of the shifts for the remaining police force to ensure enough manpower to protect Ocean City, Prettyman said.