Canonsburg police making safety a priority at Fourth of July parade

CANONSBURG, Pa. — Americans are still trying to come to terms with Monday’s mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, where a gunman shot and killed several people at a parade.

“It just breaks my heart. I can’t believe the world today. You try to celebrate the Fourth, and someone is running around doing terrible things,” said Peggy McFalls of Canonsburg.

Canonsburg has a population of around 9,000 people, according to the latest census data. But that number increases by the thousands on days like the Fourth of July, and the police chief said he’s already planning for next year when it comes to keeping everyone safe.

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“We recognize that anything is a potential target, including a Fourth of July parade,” said Chief Alexander Coghill. “I’m interested to see what comes out of this investigation with the parade in Highland Park because we’ll adapt and look at different areas also, as we improve our security.”

Canonsburg’s parade, one of the largest celebrations in the state, brought in nearly 70,000 people for the event. That requires extra patrols from neighboring departments, civilian volunteers, and extensive planning.

“[We conduct] physical searches for anything out of place, [look for] any people casing the area, packages, people in unusual clothing, especially on a hot day,” Coghill said.

Coghill said a month or two before the parade or other large event, his department requests the assistance of government intelligence agencies.

“We ask them to start an evaluation, to start looking at, intelligence-wise — are there any known threats or any potential threats? Of course, they give us their recommendations on how to plan this event,” Coghill said.

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Police plan to use that intel to plan for next year’s 60th celebration, which is slated to be the biggest one yet. One piece of advice that Coghill wants to remind everyone: If you see something, say something.

“That includes social media sites, the ‘day-of’, prior ... those are indicators, we’re always looking for indicators, Coghill said.

Canonsburg’s next Fourth of July parade is still a year away, but Coghill said the community will keep its strategies in place for the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk this fall and during Christmas festivities.