Arizona bolsters security for college football championship
PHOENIX (AP) — The city of Phoenix will deploy more security personnel for the college football championship than for last year’s Super Bowl as federal authorities warn about the risk of terror attacks at crowded public events.
The title game follows recent attacks in San Bernardino, California, and Paris that have raised alarm and led the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to warn about the possibility of homegrown extremists targeting big events.
“We’ve seen so many things recently, Paris, for example. We are going to have a lot of bodies out there looking for that kind of thing,” said Shelly Jamison, a Phoenix Fire Department spokeswoman who is helping lead security coordination at the College Football Playoff title game. “We are being very proactive.”
Officials anticipate tens of thousands of visitors to flock to concerts and other events this weekend in downtown Phoenix leading up to Monday’s game between Clemson and Alabama at the University of Phoenix Stadium in suburban Glendale.
Phoenix officials are using much of the same security framework from the Super Bowl, which was held in Arizona last year. But federal officials will play a smaller role, leaving the city to coordinate the operation. Thousands of security personnel at the college game will outnumber those at the NFL championship, but police wouldn’t give specifics.
Local and national law enforcement have responded to the latest homegrown terrorist threats by working with entities like the NCAA to improve security and public awareness with promotions such as the campaign, “If you see something, say something,” said John Cohen, a former counterterrorism coordinator at the Department of Homeland Security.
“What the events of the last several months have illustrated is that the threat posed by homegrown terrorism is real, is here and can impact any community in the United States,” said Cohen, a Rutgers University professor. “While there were concerns in the past, those concerns have come to a whole new level.”
Arizona has had its own threats as well. An Arizona man accused of helping plan an attack on a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas also inquired about explosives to attack last year’s Super Bowl, according to court documents.
The college game’s security effort involves more than 100 entities, including law enforcement, fire officials and the National Guard, said Sgt. Trent Crump, a Phoenix police spokesman.
A multiagency coordination center is set up in Phoenix, where authorities will monitor a wall of flat-screen TVs capable of streaming more than 2,500 camera feeds from businesses around the metro area, Crump said. The Super Bowl used the same approach.
Officials also will review local transportation, social media and even air quality to ensure public safety.
Security personnel will be stationed at the game, the Fan Central event in downtown Phoenix and an outdoor music venue that will feature concerts leading up to the championship.
“If you look at an active shooter incident, one of the tactics that has to be employed in order to save lives is to engage that shooter as soon as possible and stop them from attacking innocent citizens,” said Kevin Kalkbrenner, the city’s director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “That requires a personnel element.”
Phoenix officials said it’s difficult to estimate the costs of the beefed-up security measures ahead of time. A recent city report said the Super Bowl cost the city more than $3 million in public safety expenses.
Mckenzie Norman, 19, of Mesa, said she plans to attend game-related events in Phoenix this weekend but has concerns about attending a large public event following recent attacks.
“It’s always on my mind pretty much wherever I go,” she said. “I really hope that security is really strong.”