St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Fans won't be searched at stadium

The sports authority rejects patdowns and pocket searches, but the NFL may soon make frisking mandatory.

By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 20, 2002

The sports authority rejects patdowns and pocket searches, but the NFL may soon make frisking mandatory.

TAMPA -- Buccaneers fans don't have to worry about getting frisked before games this season.

After an hourlong discussion Monday, the Tampa Sports Authority decided not to conduct patdowns or pocket searches of people entering Raymond James Stadium.

But the Sports Authority, which runs the stadium, did ask local law enforcement to work with its staff on ways to make the building safer from terrorists.

"This is one area that I just don't want to make a mistake on," said board member Jim Norman, who is also a Hillsborough County commissioner.

It was the second meeting on the patdowns in two weeks; during a previous meeting, board members decided more research was needed after wrangling over such issues as insurance and logistics.

On Monday, a lawyer for the Bucs said the team has $5-million in insurance that would cover a lawsuit filed by someone after being searched.

Board member Patrick Manteiga, publisher of the local newspaper La Gaceta, said that even with insurance, the patdowns were a bad precedent for the community.

"I don't think anyone is going to appreciate being patted down," said Manteiga. "I don't want to live in a community where we ask women and children to spread their legs and be patted down to see a football game."

Manteiga proposed that the board not approve patdowns. All but two people -- Sue House and the Rev. Abraham Brown -- agreed with Manteiga's motion, but not without debate.

House said that she thinks there is a "great threat" against the stadium. Two law enforcement officers said that patdowns were a good idea.

"If it were to enhance security and done in a professional manner, we would be in favor of it," said Hillsborough sheriff's Maj. Rocky Rodriguez.

Tampa police Maj. K.C. Newcomb agreed: "I'd rather err on the side of security than chance."

The two law enforcement agencies were approached by the Bucs to support the proposal. Rodriguez said there has been no specific threat against the stadium or its fans.

"If we received information of any type of threat, we would act accordingly," said Rodriguez. "But we have not."

Under the proposal made by the Bucs, a security company experienced in this type of hands-on screening would provide about 150 personnel, including at least one male and one female at each entrance, while officers observe.

Fans would be asked to spread their legs and stretch out their arms and be given patdowns outside and inside of their legs, around their torsos and along their sleeves. They would be asked to their empty pockets and remove hats.

Some board members were worried about pedestrian jams at the gate. Others had concerns that security guards conducting the patdowns would inappropriately touch a fan.

According to Sports Authority executive director Henry Saavedra, six NFL teams conduct patdowns. The NFL recommends the searches and may make them mandatory in another year or two, he said.

The board agreed to ask the Sheriff's Office, the Tampa Police Department and other agencies to discuss other security measures with Sports Authority staff.

The Sheriff's Office and Tampa police divide responsibility for security at the stadium on Bucs game days; the Florida Highway Patrol provides enforcement on the field.

The Bucs said little about Monday's vote.

"We will continue to work with the Tampa Sports Authority to review security," Bucs communications manager Jeff Kamis said in a faxed statement.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.