By Mike Kaszuba
In August of last year – as Minnesota prepared to host its first Super Bowl in a quarter century – law enforcement officials were arranging for both the celebratory aspects of the event, as well as the potential for disaster.
An early directive from a Super Bowl panel on public safety advised that “the goal is to have a visible presence of law enforcement who are friendly and approachable so visitors have a sense of safety. ‘Feel safe, be safe’ is the motto.”
But an August assessment from law enforcement officials was blunt: The event would require mass fatality contingency plans which would “require a large structure similar to that used for airplane crashes.”
Public Record Media (PRM), a Saint Paul based non-profit, reviewed meeting minutes of a Super Bowl subcommittee composed of local officials who have been dealing with public safety issues. The minutes and other records spanned nearly two years, and covered everything from bodyguards for dignitaries, postponing jury trials in downtown Minneapolis, and having special climatologists to keep an eye on winter weather.
The panel was known as the Public Safety Line of Business Super Bowl Planning Subcommittee, and it considered a range of issues that illustrate how the National Football League’s signature event will be allowed to disrupt the daily routines of downtown Minneapolis in ways large and small.
“Most secure area in the world”
According to the subcommittee’s meeting minutes from March of 2016, the area around the stadium “will be the most secure area in the world on the day of the Super Bowl.” Emergency operations centers in Hennepin County, Ramsey County and at the University of Minnesota would be open “in case of an incident,” the panel was told. Before releasing the subcommittee minutes to PRM, county officials redacted some of the panel’s discussion regarding the Super Bowl incident command post and emergency command center.
Elsewhere in the minutes, planning officials discussed limitations on the sharing of information. “Information related to the Super Bowl was not public under Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Chapter 13,” Minneapolis Police Commander Scott Gerlicher, the lead local planner for public safety at the Super Bowl, told the panel at a meeting in July of 2016. At the same meeting, Major Darrell Huggett of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office discussed how he had tried to follow-up on sharing a report from the Super Bowl Host Committee, “but found that the report was not public.”
Security measures were frequent topics of conversation among subcommittee members. “Top officials won’t be able to bring their own security for free other than the President and Vice President. The governor would be allowed one security personnel and has to purchase a ticket,” the minutes noted. “Air space will be locked down,” the subcommittee was also told.
(PRM had reported in September of 2016 that in addition, the FBI had placed its own transmitting antennas inside US Bank Stadium to make it easier for agents to communicate with each other within the building. An FBI spokesman told PRM at the time that “typically, these types of communications are for special events at the stadium – the Super Bowl is obviously upcoming.”)
Impact on government operations
Last August, officials noted that no downtown county facilities would be inside the game day safety perimeter. However, they also indicated that the event would have widespread impacts.
The same August meeting briefly outlined the approach of the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office to those arrested during any Super Bowl protests. “Response for protests will be to process and release, with complaints to be issued later.” The group was also told that “a vacation ban during the event” was likely for city attorney staff.
In October, the committee discussed barring any jury trials at the Hennepin County Government Center during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. The subcommittee’s August meeting minutes, which also addressed the issue, noted that court “calendars would be scaled down to in-custody. Staff would be allowed to work remotely.”
Meanwhile, the subcommittee’s minutes stated that the public defender’s office would “keep as many people out of the office and working offsite as possible.” Representatives of the public defender’s office noted that plans to move court appearances to the suburbs might make it “difficult for clients who do not live in the suburbs” to get to court.
Minutes from October noted that the county attorney’s office, which is also housed in the county government center, would probably have “only a skeleton crew at the office during the week prior to the Super Bowl.” The minutes quote Gerlicher as observing that emptying downtown Minneapolis of so many government workers might have unintended consequences for the game. “These are fun, family-oriented activities,” Gerlicher said of the Super Bowl events taking place in the city, “and everyone wants to maintain the vibrancy of the downtown area.”
“Unsanctioned spontaneous events”
The subcommittee also discussed other disruptions – including those to the light rail trains in downtown Minneapolis that travel past US Bank Stadium, the site of the Super Bowl. At its August 9 meeting, the subcommittee was told that “light rail trains would be running through downtown, but would not be making [their normal] stops” near the stadium because of an extended Super Bowl safety perimeter.
“Unsanctioned spontaneous events would be the hardest to manage,” the panel was told.
The minutes also indicate how much sway the Super Bowl Host Committee would have as local public officials planned for the Super Bowl. One official reported that she “had met with Maureen Bausch and Adriene Jordan from the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee and they had agreed to Hennepin County serving as co-chair of the Sex Trafficking Subcommittee.” The panel was informed that there were 35 similar subcommittees planning for the Super Bowl in Minnesota, with others focusing among other things on downtown patrols, credentialing, critical infrastructure, and cyber issues.
A Hennepin County spokesperson said the subcommittee did not meet after its October session, and had no plans to do so before the Super Bowl.
Impact on downtown homeless population
PRM made several record requests involving one other likely change – the temporary removal of the homeless population near the stadium. The subcommittee’s minutes – as well as e-mails from county officials handling the issue – offered some clues. At its July 2016 meeting, the subcommittee discussed the “anticipated displacement of homeless in downtown Minneapolis”, and an accompanying note talked of briefing the NFL “with the hope of securing funding.”
Last August, one Hennepin County official discussed housing homeless youth during the Super Bowl at the county home school – a residential treatment center for juveniles ages 13 to 20 located in suburban Minnetonka.
“One of our corrections directors was asking me if we need space at the County Home School for extra shelter beds during SB LII. Is this something that you think service providers will need during SB?” asked Amanda Koonjbeharry, a county official.
“This is a nice offer,” replied Beth Holger-Ambrose, executive director of The Link, a program near downtown Minneapolis that works with youth and families on poverty issues. Holger-Ambrose stated that the organization “should be good in terms of the numbers of youth we expect to need shelter.” The website for The Link notes that it will “be providing additional shelter and services to support youth sex trafficking victims during the 10 days surrounding the Super Bowl.”
Other e-mails revealed that in December of 2016, county officials were wondering how shelters near US Bank Stadium might cope with being located within the NFL’s security perimeter.
In a 2016 e-mail message to the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office, county official Mikkel Beckmen cautioned that “Hennepin County Human Services & Public Health Dept. operates a large number of programs and services out of the Human Service Building at 525 Portland Ave S as well as sends lots of homeless families from that location to the large shelter at People Serving People which is just a few blocks away.”
“I was wondering if these sites are inside any security zones and if we should be planning for any changes or disruptions to the ‘flow’ of work and folks to and from these locations during the Super Bowl,” Beckmen asked.
He was told “it would be safe to assume” that there would be some disruptions.
Weather concerns and cost issues
More than a year before the game, concerns about weather were raised before the subcommittee. At a July 2016 meeting, the group was told that the “State Climatologist Office would be conducting a thorough assessment and tracking any weather systems” as the game approached. In August of last year, the subcommittee was also informed that “a meteorologist from Emergency Management is chairing the Weather Committee.”
When briefing the subcommittee in July of 2016, Gerlicher said that he had already spent the majority of the past 18 months planning for the Super Bowl, and was “awe struck at the size and scope of things.” At a subcommittee meeting in March of 2016, the panel was told that the Super Bowl Host Committee had hoped to raise $50 million, and that the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office submitted an estimated $5 million budget for Super Bowl public safety-related work, “although costs may be higher.”
At the same meeting, the subcommittee was informed that there would be an estimated 300 Super Bowl parties that were not sanctioned by the NFL, but whose hosts would probably be looking for off-duty police to help with security. Last October, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office told the panel that it “has had a number of volunteers commit to provide 1,000 staff hours.”
At a meeting last February, the subcommittee was also told that overtime “for law enforcement officers [working at the Super Bowl] has been standardized at $82.00 per hour, no matter what jurisdiction an officer is from.” The panel’s minutes added the reminder that “the NFL does not fund the event.”