Police merge to keep stadium safe
Arizona Stadium has come a long way since it was built in 1928 and held about 7,000 spectators. It now has a capacity of more than 56,000, and more fans means there's a need for more security.
Because it does not have enough officers to secure Arizona football games, the University of Arizona Police Department is reaching out to several Tucson-based police agencies for help.
Tucson Police Department, Pima Country Sheriff's Department, Oro Valley Police Department, the Department of Public Safety and A-TEAM Security are all contributing to the public's well-being at UA football games.
Sahuarita Police Department, Marana Police Department and Pima Community College Police have also been called upon for extra security at times.
""We utilize (outside agencies) in the same way we would utilize our own people as far as making assignments to ensure the safety and security of the event,"" said UAPD's public information officer, Sgt. Juan Alvarez.
Prior to the first home football game each year, supervisors from each participating agency attend a special operations briefing, said Lt. Chris Olson, from Oro Valley Police Department. This briefing encompasses traffic control, basic crowd control, an emergency evacuation procedure and what to do with suspicious packages.
Olson said he used to work football games when he was a UAPD officer. During games these days, he sits in one of two command centers at a high level in the stadium with lieutenants from the other agencies. This area is called the Crows' Nest.
The supervisors in the Crows' Nest act as liaisons for the officers patrolling the stadium down below. If something needs to be shared between agencies, a supervisor is contacted by radio, allowing the supervisors in the Crows' Nest to discuss among themselves. They then give instructions to their own officers.
This system is referred to as the Incident Command Structure, Alvarez said.
Each agency is assigned its own section, or ""jurisdictions,"" as Olson called it. Olson estimated that each agency is represented by more than a dozen officers, though UAPD Commander Bob Sommerfeld would not release the exact number of officers used per game for security reasons.
""We base the number of officers on the crowd, the activity, the venue and a historical trend looking back at what has occurred during football games,"" Sommerfeld said, ""and we have not had a situation where we did not have enough officers on hand to handle any situation that we have faced here.""
Suzy Mason, associate athletic director of event operations, said that, on average, more than $100,000 is spent on security for a UA football game. The funding is officially a game-day expense that comes out of Arizona Athletics' expenditures, she said.
Officers who work games are paid the off-duty wage of their own department, though they become part-time employees of the university during the game, Olson said.
All officers are required to fill out a UA application and go through the school's human resources department.
""That way, we're identified under the same workman's compensation's insurance and liability insurance that all University of Arizona employees are covered under,"" Olson said.
To keep the football games as safe as possible, the officers encourage spectators to pay attention to the instructions as they are given, Alvarez said.
""We depend on the cooperation of the people that attend these events to make them safe,"" Alvarez said.
Security at UA football games has become more sophisticated than it was during the days when only 7,000 people could attend.
""The U of A, they've been doing it for so long, they really have it down to an art,"" Olson said. ""The operation plan is very specific, it's systematic. It's well done, is what it is.""