By Nick Brown
MIAMI (Reuters) – Ensuring the safety of fans and players at this year’s Super Bowl in Miami entails an extraordinary deployment of law enforcement assets, even by recent standards, in keeping with heightened global tensions and fears of home-grown violence.
The show of force stands in stark contrast from the relatively easy-going atmosphere that prevailed in the late 1960’s, when Miami hosted its first Super Bowls.
With the National Football League’s showcase game returning to South Florida for the first time in a decade, thousands of police from local, state and federal agencies will coordinate their efforts to protect Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers.
Super Bowl LIV is a so-called SEAR 1 event, affording it the highest level of federal resources, including explosive detection canine teams, cyber risk assessments and air security. Coordinated by the U.S. Secret Service, the security force includes operations by the U.S. Coast Guard, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security.
Local police departments from Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach and the city of Miami will lead a massive ground operation with thousands of officers. Miami alone has deployed nearly 1,500 officers on foot, horseback, in boats, and in the air, Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Phil Daugherty recalls a simpler time. Daugherty, 81, spent more than 20 years as a police officer in Miami, working security for four Super Bowls, including the seaside city’s first two – Super Bowls II and III in 1968 and 1969, respectively.
Back then, there was little federal presence, and Miami assigned “70 or 80” police to the game, Daugherty recalled in a phone interview on Wednesday.
During Super Bowl III – in which the Joe Namath-led New York Jets pulled off a stunning upset over the powerhouse Baltimore Colts – Daugherty and his three-man team were tasked with protecting incoming Vice President Spiro Agnew and show-biz legend Bob Hope.
During the game, Daugherty noticed members of the Kennedy political family were in attendance with no security at all, so he lent the Kennedys a couple of his men. “Nowadays they’d have a whole team with them,” he said.
Daugherty could not imagine a world in which flying drones posed a threat to the Super Bowl, but in 2020, that is the realty. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has banned drones in the vicinity of the Super Bowl, and George Piro, who leads the FBI’s Miami Field Office, said at Wednesday’s news conference that authorities would seize the drones of any violators.
Human-trafficking is also a big concern. Anthony Salisbury, special agent in charge of Homeland Security operations in Miami, urged the public to inform law enforcement if they notice signs of a controlled relationship. That could include “a person who doesn’t have access to their money or cards” or “a person who doesn’t make eye contact with you, or defers to the other person they’re with,” Salisbury said.
In the late ’60s, Daugherty said, the biggest worries were political disruptions over racial tensions or the unpopular Vietnam War. In the end, the games went off without a hitch.
Today, law enforcement has no shortage of potential dangers to worry about, from recent political tensions with Iran and other potential international threats, to the scourge of mass shootings that plague the United States.
Significantly stepped up security for the big game really took shape after the 9/11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington with Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans on Feb. 3, 2002 between the New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams.
‘TAKES UP AN ENTIRE COUNTY’
Cliff Dubbin, a retired physician who now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, recalls buying a ticket to Super Bowl II, in which the defending champion Green Bay Packers beat the Oakland Raiders, for a paltry $10.
There were no metal detectors, Dubbin said in a phone interview, and the attendants who checked spectators’ bags were not uniformed professionals so much as “average Joes looking to make an extra buck on the weekends.”
The checks were not exactly thorough, Dubbin recalled. A well-hidden flask could usually sneak past attendants.
Now, simply preparing to secure a Super Bowl is a year-long process. Police from Tampa, Florida, next year’s host city, were in Miami this week, shadowing local officers to get a feel for how to keep a city safe.
“It’s hard to tell but the amount of planning and security that’s going on behind the scenes is incredible,” Ruben Delgado, Tampa’s assistant police chief, told Reuters.
The Super Bowl’s footprint has grown over the decades, so police in surrounding communities must also mobilize.
This year, Miami Beach is hosting the Super Bowl Experience, a theme park featuring games, shops, autograph sessions and family events.
The game “takes up an entire county,” Miami Beach Police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez told Reuters. “It takes careful coordination with all the local agencies.”
Daugherty, for one, is relieved Super Bowl security is now someone else’s job. “It would be quite a job today,” he mused. “I wouldn’t want to be in charge of this one.”
(Reporting By Nick Brown in Miami; Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Berkrot)