Robust police presence, latest in counterterrorism technology among tools used in NBA Finals
Jun 15, 2012 (The Oklahoman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Security is a full-time business for the company that manages Chesapeake Energy Arena and the convention center across the street.
But the NBA Finals? Well, even that's just another gig for the guards employed by international venue management group SMG, said the arena's director of sales and marketing, Tim Linville.
There's more media, more celebrities and more national attention, but the Oklahoma City-Miami series so far has been business as usual, he said.
"It's actually very similar, it's just everything is kind of ramped up," he said. "Just a normal game on steroids."
Tell that to the hundreds of law enforcement officers -- some uniformed, some not -- parading in and out of the arena and up and down the sidewalks to Bricktown and back this week.
On horseback and bicycle, and with towers in the sky, pedestrians in the area on game days are unlikely to make it a down a full city block without running across a law enforcement officer along the way or spotting a police helicopter in the sky.
Among the agencies supplementing SMG this week: city police and fire, the county sheriff, highway patrol, civil service, FBI, U.S. Secret Service and forces with the National Basketball Association.
A spokesman for U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that department was not involved, but officers with at least one of its agencies -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- reportedly were shutting down fraudulent Thunder memorabilia stands as recently as Thursday afternoon.
And in addition to searching bags and managing crowds of excitable fans, the agencies have also brought some pretty serious technology to the table: sensors that measure for radioactive material in the air, bomb-sniffing dogs, facial recognition systems.
"If you can think of the Superbowl with football, same thing here except it's basketball," said Capt. Dexter Nelson of the Oklahoma City Police Department. "Everybody you can think of with a three-letter acronym will be at the table for this thing."
The concern with such a major event in downtown Oklahoma City ranges from fraudulent merchandise to a major terrorism attack, Nelson said. It's a similar approach to President Barack Obama's visit in March, except stationary instead of mobile.
Nelson was here for the bombing of the federal building in 1995, and its shadow, he said, continues to reign over mass gatherings such as the Finals.
"We always keep that in the back of our mind," he said.
Nelson wouldn't say how many police officers were assigned to work security inside and outside the arena this week, nor would any of the other agencies involved.
Except for a member of the city fire department, taking a break after a more than two-hour sweep of the venue ahead of Thursday's game, none would discuss tactics.
Nelson said the city is paying overtime to police officers and pulling many of them from their regular duties to staff the Finals security teams. The financial impact of that won't be known for several months, he said.
Mark Myers, spokesman for the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department, said reserve officers have volunteered to staff horse, bicycle and all-terrain vehicle patrols during the Finals.
"It's the first time we've ever had the NBA Finals, but we do use all those divisions at special events like the state fair," Myers said. "They are called out and they are very well-trained when it comes to crowd control and dealing with large events."
Mike Bass, senior vice president of marketing communications for the NBA said his organization has plenty of experience handling security detail for large-scale events.
The robust police presence and bag searches are only the tip of the iceberg, he said. Behind the scenes was plenty of planning and development of a complex communications machine.
"The goal is to provide a safe and secure environment for all those attending the arenas for games, and that includes the fans or patrons that are attending and anyone who's working," Bass said. "It is something that has always been a priority for the NBA and, I'd say, across sports, and yes over the years it has been ramped up but there's also new technology that's useful we can deploy."
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