INDIANAPOLIS — Law enforcement officials charged with Super Bowl security are taking extraordinary measures to prevent a terrorist attack, but they’re also working to keep the event from being a field day for common criminals.
Police are using a wide array of resources, from surveillance cameras to software that can track germ-warfare, to minimize the terror threat. But they’re also using Indianapolis ministers as designated peace-keepers to minimize what the city’s public director calls “street-level conflicts” that may erupt among sports fans.
Their mission is to keep a stadium filled with 68,000 fans safe from some weapon-wielding terrorist who wants to make a political statement during the most-watched televised event in the world. And also to deal with the more mundane criminal elements that come with an event of the Super Bowl size: Pickpockets, prostitutes and people who drink way too much.
"The goal is safe, secure and fun Super Bowl," said U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
On Wednesday, Napolitano joined Indianapolis Public Safety Chief Frank Straub at a news conference to unveil some of the measures the Super Bowl host city is taking to keep people safe before and during game day on Sunday.
Some are already visible — like the increased but low-key presence of city police in the open-air festival site known as Super Bowl Village in downtown Indianapolis. Filled with food, entertainment and celebrity sightings, it’s attracted more than 200,000 visitors since last weekend.
The increased police presence seems to be working: "I’ve never seen so many happy people in one place," Straub said.
Some measures aren’t so visible. Few visitors may notice the network of surveillance cameras hanging from street lights in the downtown area. Few probably know that every shipment into the game venue, Lucas Oil Stadium, is being screened for drugs, weapons and explosives by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
City police have also been working with the FBI’s counter-terrorism unit, which tracks terror "chatter" over the Internet and on social media sites. Napolitano said Wednesday there’s been no credible threat surrounding the Super Bowl.
Still, sweeping anti-terror measures have been part of the Super Bowl since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The game is designated a top-level security event, just a rung below a visit from the president.
So ticket holders will be subject to strict security rules: No big bags, no umbrellas, no laser lights, no beach balls, no noisemakers and no other things seen as potentially dangerous.
Ticket-holders will also pass through metal detectors to be screened for weapons. And they’ll be asked to be vigilant: The NFL has adopted a security initiative launched with last year’s Super Bowl in Dallas that uses the slogan: "If You See Something, Say Something." It encourages fans to text, call or otherwise notify law enforcement if they see something suspicious.
Meanwhile, Indianapolis police have also beefed up their efforts to curb crime that Straub says "routinely goes up" during major sporting events. City police, for example, have increased their undercover work, both on the streets and on the Internet, posing as prostitutes to catch unsuspecting "clients."
Another weapon that the Super Bowl host city is employing is a group of about 300 ministers, who’ve partnered with Indianapolis police before to fight teenage-gang crime. Straub said those ministers will be out on the streets Super Bowl weekend, using their pastoral skills to help keep the peace. They’ll be asked to be on the lookout for angry sports fans looking to pick a fight -- and if they spot such troublemakers, to talk them down.
"I don’t expect a lot of that," Straub said. "But all it takes at an event like this is two people who’ve had too much to drink and one of them gets mouthy."
Maureen Hayden is Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI’s Indiana newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .