SUPER BOWL SPECIAL : SECURITY: : Tipsy But Comparatively Subdued Super Fans Will Be Well-Protected

Times Staff Writer

At last year's Super Bowl in Pasadena, Jim Kennedy sat scrunched in the seats along with 100,000-plus privileged fans who witnessed professional football's annual rite to itself.

Sitting next to him were several New Yorkers, cheering on their soon-to-be-champion Giants. The weather was cool and crisp, Kennedy recalled, but this shirtless bunch was jumping and shouting, and swilling beer.

"The guy next to me drank 20 beers," Kennedy said. "He was so drunk he couldn't stand up. But he was not unruly. He apologized every time he fell in my lap."

Kennedy, a San Diego police commander, says he left Pasadena having learned two lessons.

One: A Super Bowl fan is not the typical, raucous football spectator. He has spent a lot of money to get there and he plans to fully enjoy himself, but not to the point of being rude and offensive and creating security problems.

Two: High-level security can be organized at a Super Bowl without interfering with fans' enjoyment of the game.

Applying those lessons, a contingent of law enforcement and emergency preparedness experts--led by Kennedy--has fortified San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium without making it look like a fortress.

When an estimated crowd of 74,500 football fans passes through the turnstiles Sunday for Super Bowl XXII, here's what they likely won't see:

Rooftop observation posts will already be manned.

A bomb squad and dogs will be waiting in the stadium wings.

A team of SWAT officers will be poised on standby.

Special agents will be eyeing the aisles while undercover officers work the crowd.

Authorities also plan to restrict air traffic over the stadium.

To further improve their response capabilities, officers have found a spot in one of the stadium corners that allows a 320-degree view of the field and stands.

"We're ready for everything, including a Russian submarine coming up the San Diego River bed," said San Diego Police Lt. Bob Jones, who has worked the stadium security detail for three years, lent a hand during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and is Kennedy's right-hand man for Sunday's NFL title game.

Of equal concern is making sure their efforts do not intrude on the fans' enjoyment of what is arguably the nation's biggest one-time sporting event.

'It's a Festive Attitude'

"We don't want to unnecessarily worry anyone," said Kennedy. "The fans are there to have fun. It's a festive attitude."

Kennedy said he reached that conclusion after observing the Pasadena game, then attending numerous strategy sessions with NFL security officials and Lt. Roger Kelley of the Pasadena Police Department.

Kelley said he has worked three Super Bowls in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and planned the security for the fourth there last year.

"By and large, the crowds are just super," he said. "When you have out-of-state crowds, they have paid so much money to come out that they really want to go see the game. And even though they've been drinking a little bit, for the most part they're a happy-go-lucky group."

According to his statistics, police during Super Bowl XXI made 44 felony arrests: Forty-one for pickpocketting, two for possession of cocaine and one for burglarizing a car parked outside. Misdemeanor arrests numbered 24: Twenty for being drunk and disorderly, two for trespassing, and one each for ticket scalping and possession of marijuana.

"We had one episode where a group of people tried to gate-crash," Kelley said. "But we had men right there who were walking along the fence they tried to scale. We pushed them off."

Bomb Threat Unfounded

Kelley also said police received one bomb threat during the game, forwarded to them from the FBI after a Connecticut man claiming ties to a Mideast terrorist group called authorities and said an explosive device was going to detonate inside the stadium.

With 30 minutes' lead time, police and ushers inspected key areas of the stadium and found nothing. He said the game was not interrupted.

Likewise, San Diego authorities have prepared for the inevitable. Police began preparing months ago for the game, meeting with league officials, learning what to expect and how to muster their forces.

Earlier this week, officers were positioned at the stadium and officials began sweeping and inspecting the facility, monitoring who and what was coming in, already tightening security.

Now, with Game Day fast approaching, Kennedy estimates that the San Diego Police Department will spend $60,000 in providing security--the bulk of it to cover overtime and across-the-board canceled vacations for police officers.

Troupes of Pickpockets

Without providing a lot of specifics (for security reasons), Kennedy and Jones said there will be strict policing of pickpocketting. Undercover officers, aware that a group of professional pickpockets travel around the country to major sporting events, will be mingling with the crowd.

Officers said that pickpockets often will steal wallets, then use the tickets to enter the stadium and continue their thievery.

Kelley said that, last year, officers arrested a group of pickpockets from Colombia at the Rose Bowl. They also said that, in the past, notables have fallen prey to the sleight-of-hand, including a former California governor who lost a watch.

Kennedy said police will also be on guard against ticket scalping. A new law prohibits scalping in the parking lot and stadium entryways.

"Signs will be posted," Kennedy said. "It is a crime to enter the stadium grounds without a ticket or pass."

With more than 200 patrolmen, most of them in full uniform, officials said they want the police force to be seen, but not to be seen as a threat.

Lockup Is Available

Jones said a cell in the basement of the stadium will be available if things get out of hand, but he and other officials doubt that the cell will see much use.

He said a Super Bowl crowd is tamer, made up of older fans, many of them corporate types and not necessarily emotional fans. He contrasted them to a crowd at the 1986 San Diego Chargers-Los Angeles Raiders game, where 38 people were locked up, most of them for drinking in public, fighting, urinating in public and using drugs.

"That's a rowdy crowd," Jones said.

Bill Wilson, stadium manager, said his office is doubling its security detail. And he said the NFL is hiring its own special private security guards. In addition, he said "a couple hundred Marines" will be volunteering as special greeters, wearing red NFL jackets, helping to usher lines and seeing that crowds move through the stadium in an orderly manner.

Other emergency needs have been anticipated as well. Special first-aid stations have been set up. Additional helicopters and ambulances will be positioned out front. The San Diego Fire Department is sending a hazardous materials team to the stadium.

Jerry Cannon, a Fire Department division chief, said that, with 74,500 fans, plus an additional 12,000 people in the stadium for support services, it represents a "small community that will be in place for at least 12 hours that day."

Treat It Like a City

"As such we're going to deal with it as if it were its own neighborhood in the city," he said.

He said extra paramedics and firefighting details will work the game, along with extra engine and truck companies. "We'll have instantaneous control of any emergency."

Along the freeways leading to the stadium, 80% to 90% of the state highway patrol's regional work force will be on duty. Major concerns are the pace of traffic into the stadium and drunken driving afterward.

Lt. Joe Phillips of the California Highway Patrol encouraged fans to ride buses and limousines, noting that massive traffic snarls could jeopardize a person's chance of reaching his seat in time for the kick-off.

He said the CHP will be using a large number of tow trucks to remove abandoned vehicles from the freeways. He said that, at past major sporting events, fans have panicked because of traffic problems, parked their cars on the freeway, and walked to the stadium.

"The problem is that once people start doing it, it's infectious. A lot of them will be driving rental cars and it might be a good trade-off to them to pay a storage fee rather than be late for the game."

About drunken drivers, Phillips said the patrol will deploy 30 patrol cars in the immediate area of the stadium and Mission Valley. "We will be looking very hard for drinking drivers," he said. "We'll take them off the road."

Overall, said Jim Steeg, NFL director of special events, the league is pleased with the way officials in San Diego have gone about safeguarding the stadium.

"We're not experts in the area of security," he said. "What we're good at is putting on the game."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
72°