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SBJ/20090126/Super Bowl XLIII
Record-size security staff stands guard
Published January 26, 2009
On Sunday, Feb. 3, last year, Kurt William Havelock, a 35-year-old restaurant owner, left the Tempe, Ariz., condominium he shared with his fiancee, her two children and two dogs, and drove to a post office half an hour east in Glendale, where he mailed off eight letters.
Havelock’s plans for that afternoon had originally included a trip to Desert Ridge Marketplace, a glitzy, 110-acre shopping complex in northeast Phoenix. But sometime that week, he changed his mind.
The mall would likely be crowded, with Dave & Buster’s and other restaurants there filled with fans gearing up for Super Bowl XLII, which would be played that afternoon just a few minutes down Loop 101.
It wasn’t that Havelock didn’t want to deal with the crowds. He just wanted a bigger one.
So he headed the seven miles south, to University of Phoenix Stadium, the game site for the Giants and Patriots.
Just a few hours before kickoff, Havelock pulled into the parking lot of Jobing.com Arena, where a host of pregame festivities were happening a few hundred yards away from the stadium.
Armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, six 30-round magazines and 20 loose rounds of ammunition, Havelock, a man with no criminal record and no history of mental disorder, surveyed the scene: 100,000 fans, hundreds of security officials.
Not one of them knew that the letters he had just mailed were addressed to The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Associated Press, among others, and that they contained an eight-page manifesto detailing a planned massacre that he promised would be “swift, and bloody.”
But after arriving on site, Havelock changed his mind. He turned himself in to local police a few hours later.
Law enforcement officials in Tampa hope the combination of experience and a record-sized security budget and staff will help prevent the near disaster that occurred last year at Glendale’s first Super Bowl.
Much has changed for Super Bowl hosts since the game was last staged in Tampa in 2001. The biggest change, according to Maj. John Bennett, the Tampa Police Department’s incident commander for the Super Bowl, is the implementation of “target hardening,” security industry jargon that describes the perimeter barricades that have encompassed each of the seven post-9/11 Super Bowl stadium sites.
Every one of the estimated 100,000 people who will enter the site this year — from fans to vendors to the 2,000 people who have volunteered to storm the field when Bruce Springsteen plays the halftime show — will pass through a magnetometer as they would at an airport.
What that means, Bennett said, is that most of the security labor is located outside the stadium itself. That includes more than 3,000 security personnel, from uniformed guards and undercover decoys to Coast Guard pilots and Homeland Security officials.
Approximately 300 local and county officers will be inside the stadium, about the same number as for a regular-season game, as well as about 20 state highway patrol officers located on the field. Police and emergency costs for the city will be offset at least in part by reimbursements coming from the NFL, according to Santiago Corrada, Tampa’s administrator of neighborhood services and the person who is overseeing Tampa’s $1 million spending for the effort.
The NFL plans to spend about $6 million on security for this Sunday’s Super Bowl, according to people involved with the game. League officials would not comment on that amount. The game’s security plan was tested earlier this month during the Outback Bowl, also played at Raymond James Stadium.
The massive operation will be run out of the joint operating center (JOC), a secure, highly technical outpost located far from the stadium whose location is not publicly identified. From there, officials can communicate with the more than a dozen organizations that are working to protect the area. If the security inside the perimeter is compromised — “swallowed,” in security terms — action plans will be orchestrated from the JOC.
The last time the Super Bowl was in Tampa, in 2001, security also was story line, but for a different reason. The city and the NFL received criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union after it was revealed that a face-recognition system had been used to compare an image of every attendee as they entered the stadium against a criminal database. City officials said the game was just a test site for the system and that this time, undercover enforcement will monitor the crowds for specific behavior.
As Bennett acknowledged, last year’s potential Super Bowl shooter probably would not have fit anyone’s profile. He said league and local officials know there’s a limit on how much scrutiny fans will endure.
“It’s still an event first and has to have the feel of a game,” he said, “and it’s our job to maintain that facade.”