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Plenty of calls, but no threats in Mass.

Police investigate several false alarms

By Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / September 12, 2011

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Police around the state left nothing to chance on yesterday’s 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as they responded to reports of potential safety threats, including a suspicious rental truck, a man photographing planes, and unattended bags.

While authorities found no suspicious activity in most cases, two reports were referred to the FBI for further investigation, said State Police spokesman David Procopio.

Procopio would only say that the activity occurred in two cities and that the first report involved a man standing outside a building; the second concerned four people in a vehicle outside another structure.

The FBI in Boston released no details and only said in a statement that “logical investigative steps have been completed regarding the matters. There is no apparent threat to public safety at this time.’’

Boston and State police also spent much of yesterday on the lookout for a Penske rental truck after a witness reported seeing three men load 55-gallon containers into a company vehicle Saturday night on Columbus Avenue in Roxbury, authorities said.

In an e-mail shortly before 3 p.m. yesterday, Procopio said that the alert had been canceled after the truck was found and determined to be “operating in a lawful manner, carrying charitable items.’’

Neither Procopio nor a Boston police spokesman could say where the truck was found or what the items were. Procopio did say, however, that troopers stopped two other Penske trucks as a precaution yesterday before the alert was canceled.

One person who called in a tip may have been a little too zealous.

A witness reported a man photographing planes near the Fitchburg-Leominster line, according to Procopio, and police arrived to question him.

The man told the officers that he was taking photos of a red-tailed hawk.

Investigators later confirmed that he had “an avid interest in birds’’ after reviewing his personal website, Procopio said.

The 9/11 anniversary and the recent reports of a terrorist threat aimed at New York City and Washington, D.C., may have spurred some members of the public into action they normally would not take, according to James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University.

“It’s not surprising that on a day like today, people are being extra vigilant,’’ Fox said.

“To some extent, our enemies enjoy the fact that we sometimes victimize ourselves, by inconveniencing ourselves, by sometimes [reporting] more than we need to.’’

Procopio said State Police also investigated multiple manhole explosions in Chicopee yesterday.

He said the cause of the explosions is under investigation, but there was no evidence of an attempted terrorist attack.

About six manholes exploded, according to a local fire official who declined to give his name.

Procopio said State Police also investigated reports of unattended bags in the Oval area of the Esplanade, where thousands of people had gathered for a 9/11 commemorative event.

State Police determined that the bags posed no threat on the Esplanade, where everyone attending the event was screened at the entrance, according to Procopio.

State Police Major Thomas Grenham said authorities were expecting reports of unattended baggage, considering the size of the crowd.

Asked how it felt to patrol the area on the Sept. 11 anniversary, he said, “It certainly makes you remember, and it’s a reminder to all of us that we have to be aware of our surroundings.’’

One of the unattended bags police investigated was found near Boston Common on the corner of Charles and Boylston streets.

Passersby had mixed reactions to the display of security.

Larry Toth, 35, of Watertown, said he believes the heightened measures enacted since 9/11 threaten personal freedoms.

“We are slowly coming to a police state,’’ Toth said. “When you go to a subway station they are checking everyone, I think better security measures can be performed without taking away our liberties.’’

Gabriella Gorman, 60, of Buffalo, who was visiting the Common yesterday with her daughter, Julie, said she appreciated the extra security at Logan International Airport.

“It makes me feel a little more assured that they’re looking out for the people, the tourists and the citizens of Boston,’’ Gorman said.

Kay Lazar of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Alexander C. Kaufman contributed to this report. Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.