NFL's security chief responds to the 49ers' game-day shootings

Monday, August 29, 2011

YARMOUTH, Maine–The job of a security director in charge of events is not just preventing illegal access and foiling criminal activity, it's also about managing crowds and, when it comes to sports, potentially incendiary environments where passionate fans mix with alcohol.

This fact became clear on Aug. 20 when two fans were shot and another badly beaten during a football game between the San Francisco 49ers and their rivals across the bay, the Oakland Raiders.

After the event, while the NFL's PR machine was churning, Jeffrey Miller, the league's chief security officer, immediately sought to address the potential causes of such violent outbreaks.

He quickly made several recommendations to the San Francisco 49ers for tweaks in its game-day security to avoid a similar situation in the future. His conclusion was that, despite the fact the violence broke out at the end of the game, the problems began much earlier.

His recommendations: Make sure the first thing fans see when they roll into the parking lot is a sign with the fan code of conduct, which Miller helped develop soon after he joined the league in 2008, and information about how fans can contact stadium security via text messaging; increase the presence of uniformed police officers in the parking lots where fans tailgate before games; and, sweep the lots after kickoff. "It all comes back to how well we do things from the get-go," Miller told Security Director News. "If we do well in the parking area then that's going to put us in good position inside and we'll be where we need to be. When we don’t, I think that leads to a potential overload of our system."

There are still a lot of unknowns in the San Francisco incidents, Miller said. (Did those involved attend the games? Was it gang affiliated?) So his quick response was governed by past experience, not detailed insight into what happened in San Francisco. "If the question is, 'hey what failed out there?' I don't know. I wasn’t there. … There are a lot of things I could probably speculate on, and I may be right on most of them, but I don’t know for sure," he said. "One thing I can say is I was able to make recommendations quickly because I'm familiar with some of those crowd dynamics from working at other places."

One of those "other places" is Oakland. When Miller joined the league, Oakland was probably the most challenging stadium from a fan conduct and security point of view, he said. In the past few years, though, he said it has emerged as a success story. "[The Raiders] have completely bought into what we’re trying to do," he said. "And because of that fact and all the hard work they've put forward, we have really changed around the environment outside the stadium in Oakland."

He adds, "We can take stuff we're learned in Oakland and apply it elsewhere."

An increased focus on fan conduct and security include three major policy initiatives, in addition to the fan code of conduct, that Miller has helped institute over the last couple years. One is a web portal where security directors at the respective clubs input information after each home game about the number of arrests that occurred, the number of ejections, where those ejections took place, when they occurred, the number of police deployed, etc. Another initiative was the implementation of fan intercept surveys that ask game attendees about how well security measures are working. And the final piece was a set of 40 key security metrics against which each club is annually measured. The ratings are not made public.

Miller traveled to the Bay Area this past weekend to be at games in San Francisco and Oakland and oversee the enhanced security measures himself. "I want to go out and see with my own eyeballs. I want to go out and see it, touch it and also talk to people and make sure we're all in the right place," he told SDN on Friday. "And I think we will be."

The game in San Francisco on Aug. 27 (which included a 40 percent increase in police officers deployed at the stadium, according to the San Jose Mercury News) went off without a hitch.