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Police prefer a quiet game

Security is ready for any circumstance - from scalpers to pickpockets to a hostage situation - but expects to stay in the background during Super Bowl XXXV, a vast change from 1991's game held in Tampa.

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2001


TAMPA -- No one is posting pictures of serial bombing suspect Eric Robert Rudolph. Police will not be frisking people, searching bags or sweeping anyone with metal detectors.

In short, the million-dollar security at this year's Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, although vigilant, is not a hyper-sensitive affair.

While there will be a small army of law enforcement officers working the event, including a task force that focuses on potential threats such as bombings, no one appears to be anticipating trouble.

The scenario differs vastly from 1991, when Tampa hosted Super Bowl XXV under the ominous cloud of the Persian Gulf war, and officials feared terrorist attacks.

"The level of intensity (this year) is on par with a presidential visit," said Tampa police Maj. K.C. Newcomb, who heads the security task force.

Two law enforcement command centers will be in place, Newcomb said, with one at the stadium concentrating on game day operations, and one at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement offices on N Lois Avenue focusing on public safety issues.

Still, Newcomb said, no unusual circumstances exist that law enforcement or National Football League officials have flagged as concerns.

"We've got all the bases covered," Newcomb said, "and we've got contingency plans. All we need is good weather."

The NFL's Senior Director of Security, Milt Ahlerich, agreed.

"This one is no different, for the most part, from other Super Bowls," Ahlerich said.

"Extraordinary efforts are being made for the teams for player movement and practices," he said.

For parties, security is different because of the guests and the level of the guests, he said. "We try to not be visible."

The NFL has hired a security contractor to help with crowd management and guest services, Ahlerich said, and while he declined to give exact numbers of security personnel, there will be "several hundred supervisors from all around the U.S. that are crowd management experts."

The cost of the security, combined with pay for off-duty officers, easily tops $1-million, he said.

During a typical Tampa Bay Buccaneers football game, about 300 off-duty officers work the event. For the Super Bowl, the NFL has spent about $200,000 to increase that number to 700, Newcomb said, with the extra personnel working traffic and security.

Officers will be posted in strategic areas of Raymond James Stadium, he said, keeping a vigilant watch for pickpockets, muggers, scam artists and gate crashers.

"This stadium is a little better designed than the old one," he said, "so I don't think it's as vulnerable. Any identified weak areas will be shored up."

The biggest focus, Newcomb said, is getting people in and out of the facility. There's a lot of confusion with such an event, he said, and confused people are vulnerable to crime.

As for the criminal element that travels with such an affair, Newcomb said Tampa Bay area law enforcement has been gathering intelligence for the past six months on known ticket scalpers, pickpockets, burglars and other criminals that are typically attracted to crowded events.

That crowd is not to be confused with those who hang around the stadium simply to experience the Super Bowl any way they can, he said.

"I don't anticipate we're going to run people off, as long as they behave themselves," he said.

He expects no problems from the fans.

"This is not a blue-collar event. With that clientele, you get a different mind-set," Newcomb said. "I anticipate very few arrests inside the stadium."

More serious concerns are being addressed by a task force, Newcomb said, comprising members of the FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Secret Service, the Federal Aviation Administration and myriad local agencies.

That task force, he said, is prepared to handle anything from bombings to hazardous waste spills.

In case of a terrorist threat, the FBI would take over as the primary agency, said Special Agent Sara Oates.

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