In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, going to a game won't be the same
By George Dohrmann
At last January's Super Bowl, Tampa police employed a new criminal-catching technique. With cameras mounted near entrances to Raymond James Stadium, the authorities took a digital image of every fan as he entered and compared the image with those of 1,700 known criminals, from common thieves to terrorists, in a database assembled from state and federal police files. ACLU lawyers called the procedure an unlawful invasion of privacy and have called for congressional hearings on the use of such technology.
Sitting in his office in Tampa last week after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, police major K.C. Newcomb, who gave the go-ahead to the Super Bowl facial-recognition project, recalled the ACLU's criticism. "We took a lot of heat," says Newcomb, "but now it looks as if it's something we should have in every stadium and arena in America."
Facial-recognition systems are one of several ideas being discussed that would alter security arrangements at sports venues. Major League Baseball and the NFL announced changes following the attacks, including restrictions on what fans can bring into stadiums (baseball has banned coolers, backpacks and large bags, and some NFL teams have taken similar measures), an increased police presence and closer inspection of fans as they enter. (Be prepared for a search of any bag you bring to a game.) Security experts, however, view those as short-term solutions. "Historically, sporting events haven't been considered targets," says Robert McCrie, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College in New York City and an expert on public security who has consulted on the operations of several pro teams and venues, including the Yankees and Madison Square Garden. "Now they have to be seen that way, and that changes how we look at security." McCrie and other experts offer suggestions for how teams and venues might bolster public safety.
Teams and site managers have long debated the viability of having every fan pass through a metal detector. During the gulf war in 1991, Tampa police tried to do that at the Super Bowl, "but we realized people were going to miss kickoff so we had to stop," Newcomb says. Before last week most teams considered such a step unnecessary. Future stadiums and arenas, however, could have detectors built into the structure, expediting the process.
Other security ideas address arena workers. The developers of Los Angeles's Staples Center, site of the 2000 Democratic Convention, consulted the Secret Service and other experts while putting together building plans, and the arena's access system is considered one of the best of its kind. Some Staples workers must pass through two checkpoints, one of which is linked to a computer that won't allow a staffer to enter if he's more than 30 minutes early.
As for the Salt Lake Winter Olympics, organizers say they are "adjusting" the security plan for next February's Games. Among the options being discussed are to arm the National Guardsmen who will augment an estimated force of 3,000 federal and 1,750 state law-enforcement officers, and to have Air Force jets patrol the skies over Utah. It's a response to what experts consider an ideological shift in the threat to the Games. "In the aftermath of Munich we saw vulnerability as relating to your national identity," says Rathburn, who headed the L.A.P.D.'s security effort for the 1984 Games, "but now we have to look beyond national identity. Now, everyone is a target."
Issue date: September 24, 2001
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