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Security beefs up now that Mar-a-Lago's resident is President Trump

When President Donald Trump arrives at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach on Friday for a weekend gig that will include hosting the 60th annual Red Cross Ball, it will be his first visit since his inauguration. And that means elevated security. [Times files]
When President Donald Trump arrives at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach on Friday for a weekend gig that will include hosting the 60th annual Red Cross Ball, it will be his first visit since his inauguration. And that means elevated security. [Times files]
Published Feb. 2, 2017

WEST PALM BEACH — For two decades, Donald Trump has found refuge at his Mar-a-Lago compound in Palm Beach. First as a successful businessman, then as a reality show star and, most recently in December, as the president-elect of the United States.

When he arrives Friday for a weekend gig that will include hosting the 60th annual Red Cross Ball, it will be his first visit at his newly elevated status — president of the United States. That means elevated security.

Not surprisingly, most agencies contacted by the Palm Beach Post politely declined to say how they've beefed up their efforts now that Trump is president.

But a good analogy of what Palm Beach County is up against this weekend might be Kennebunkport.

For more than a century, the Bush family has had a vacation compound in the small Maine town, whose year-round population of less than 4,000 swells five-fold or more in the summer.

Security increased in 1981 when George H.W. Bush became vice president. And when he became president in 1989, "obviously it ramped up," Kennebunkport Deputy Chief Kurt H. Moses said.

At the time, Moses said, he was one of just 12 officers in the tiny department, and they worked 16-hour shifts every time Bush came in, which could be as much as once a month.

Moses did say Kennebunkport had an advantage in that the compound, Walker's Point, is on a peninsula, and police could control access, while Mar-a-Lago stands at the busy intersection of the Atlantic Ocean and Southern Boulevard.

Moses said that, as has been the case in Palm Beach — where protests are expected near Mar-a-Lago during Saturday night's ball -- protesters in Kennebunkport were allowed close enough to the Bush compound to be seen and heard and their rights to assemble protected, while just far enough away to keep the president safe.

Security even at the president-elect level has already proved expensive for authorities guarding Trump during two visits late last year. The county estimated it laid out some $250,000, mostly in overtime for the Sheriff's Office and Fire Rescue, just over five days Thanksgiving weekend.

The sheriff's office said this week it didn't yet have the numbers for the 16 days Trump was at Mar-a-Lago during the Christmas holidays. The county has requested federal reimbursement for both stays.

Honolulu police told the Palm Beach Post in December that they spent about $250,000 each year in overtime to help with security during then-President Barack Obama's trips to Hawaii. That department said it hasn't gotten any federal reimbursement.

And Trump's Manhattan office tower is home to numerous businesses, whose employees needed to get to their desks, caused a security headache for New York police during the presidential transition. That city also asked the feds to pay it millions.

Moses said his little department in Maine, like its counterparts in Hawaii and South Florida, never got any reimbursement either. "It was a definite burden on our budget."

The Secret Service, Moses said, "utilized us a lot because of the local knowledge." But, he said, while all agencies worked together, it was the feds who clearly were in charge.

That already is the case in Palm Beach County. The Secret Service has slapped flight restrictions in a 30-nautical-mile radius of Mar-a-Lago. The most serious of the restrictions will effectively shut down the Lantana airport.

Local police have helped with security for presidents for decades. In December 1960, Palm Beach police presence for then-President-elect John F. Kennedy paid off big-time. A retired New Hampshire postal employee had driven to Florida, his car's trunk packed with explosives, with plans to ram Kennedy. The man got cold feet when he saw Kennedy's wife and two small children were with him.

New Hampshire authorities got a tip, the Secret Service put out bulletin describing the man and his car, and four days after his first try Palm Beach patrolman Lester Free spotted the car crossing from West Palm Beach on the North Bridge and in seconds, he and Secret Service agents stopped the car and pulled the man out.

•••

A planned Saturday protest march outside the Mar-a-Lago resort is back on after two other groups took over its organization.

Alex Newell Taylor of Women's March Florida said Thursday that her group and South Florida Activism have taken over the march from Stephen Milo. He had issued a statement earlier saying the March to Mar-a-Lago was being canceled because of safety concerns.

Newell Taylor says the groups have more experience organizing demonstrations than Milo and believe they have the expertise to keep it peaceful.

The protest will be aimed at the president's moratorium on refugees from seven primarily Islamic countries and other issues.

More than 2,000 people have registered on Facebook to attend.