MIAMI, FL – Video monitors were flashing nonstop Saturday at the Joint Information Center on the second floor of the Miami Gardens Police Department headquarters less than a mile away from Hard Rock Stadium and the site of Super Bowl LIV. There were license plate readers feeding information back to officers, news feeds and old-school legal pads filled with last minute details to be checked off.
“You see the partners that are working together, we do that on a daily basis, so it’s not something new to us,” shared Chief Delma Noel-Pratt of the Miami Gardens Police Department, whose community hosts many large events by virtue of its proximity to Hard Rock Stadium.
But the Super Bowl is in a class by itself, a national treasure that draws a global audience.
“It’s a joint effort. It’s everybody pulling together,” she told Patch. “It’s one vision, one mindset.”
By everybody, the chief was referring to the massive law enforcement presence that has descended on her community of 113,000 ahead of Super Bowl Sunday. It is a sophisticated tapestry of multiple levels of local, county, state and federal agencies.
Among them are the Miami-Dade Police Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security, FBI, Secret Service, Florida Highway Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard and even the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which plays a vital role in our national security though most of us know it as the organization that tracks Santa on Christmas Eve.
“We never reveal our tactics. But Just for our agency alone, we have over 3,000 sworn officers and days off have been canceled,” confided Chief Hector Llevat of the Miami-Dade Police Department. “That should give you an idea of the law enforcement presence in Miami-Dade County during this event.”
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As of Saturday, Llevat said he was not aware of any credible threats against the Super Bowl and the 65,000 well-heeled fans who will file into Hard Rock Stadium to cheer on the San Francisco 49ers or the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Miami is unique because we’re surrounded by water. We have the Everglades and then we have metropolitan cities like the city of Miami, Miami Beach,” Llevat said. “As far as terrain goes, you have all kinds of different things to take care of and prepare for. That’s one of the unique things about Miami-Dade.”
Despite hosting its record 11th Super Bowl this year, some things have changed since the last time Super Bowl was played here 10 years ago. That’s when the New Orleans Saints hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.
“Drones are a lot more prevalent,” Llevat said of this year’s game. “We’re trying to inform the community and raise awareness about the drones because they are so prevalent. I mean you see them in any mall. You can buy these things, but you have to know where you can fly them.”
The FBI announced the arrest of at least one person for violating temporary Super Bowl flight restrictions and reported a total of 77 drone incidents as of Friday. Four drones had been seized.
Another thing that’s changed involve tactics and equipment.
Miami-Dade police unveiled the agency’s new fleet of tactical motorcycles earlier this week that will be available for Super Bowl events.
“It allows us to get special operators into areas where they typically have difficulty getting to, whether it be off terrain, whether it be a canal bank, whether it be a large gathering a concert or something like that,” Llevat said. “It’s very difficult to get a SWAT team truck into a place like that so these tactical motorcycles allow them to get into tight quarters, into places where we normally can’t traverse, a lot quicker and start addressing that situation a lot faster.”
Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert told Patch, he is comfortable with the security arrangements that have been put in place to keep his community safe in the shadow of Hard Rock Stadium.
“We’re all working very hard to make sure everyone is safe when they are at the Super Bowl in Miami Gardens,” he said. “We’ve been coordinating for years now to work with a lot of jurisdictions, a lot of different agencies, to make sure everyone is as safe as they can be.”
Zach Mann with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the Super Bowl poses multiple challenges for his agency, whether it be screening for the deadly new coronavirus that originated in China, stemming the tide of counterfeit Super Bowl merchandise, manning high-tech X-ray machines that pass over trucks and vans on their way into Hard Rock stadium or looking for victims of human trafficking.
“We scan every vehicle — car, truck, van. It doesn’t matter who owns it, or where it comes from. We’re scanning it if it’s going into the secure area of the stadium, and if it’s dropping off merchandise,” Mann said. “That can be food, ice, items that will be sold, items that will be given away or items that will be available in any fashion to those in attendance at the game.”
The $1.2 million X-ray machines have been scanning vehicles outside Gate 16 of Hard Rock Stadium over the past week but are still only one tool at the agency’s disposal.
“While we’re scanning them, the drivers and passengers are going through security as well,” Mann said. “They’re being checked for weapons, or any type of item that shouldn’t go into the stadium. Our scanning process takes about two minutes or less.”
There is no replacement for human intelligence and a cold wet nose.
“We’re using the human factor — human intelligence,” Mann said. “We’re using technology —the scanning — and we’re using old fashion K-9s and their sniffing capability to detect drugs or narcotics or explosives.”
K-9 Linda was hard at work outside Hard Rock stadium on Saturday afternoon with her Homeland Security handler as she sniffed around vehicles.
Back at the Joint Information Center, Capt. Sergio Alvarez of the Miami-Dade Police Department was leading a tour of fellow public safety officials from Tampa, Los Angeles and even Japan.
He and Maj. Carmen Castro have been tasked with sharing the knowledge their agency has developed over the years.
“The committee is comprised of individuals from the next two hosting cities that will be hosting Super Bowls — basically the city of Tampa and the city of Los Angeles,” Alvarez said.
The Japanese representatives were gathering information that will be used during the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Many of the questions from the visitors dealt with scheduling issues for officers and security costs.
“It takes a lot of planning. For example, our committee, the Visiting Public Safety Officials Committee has been working together as a team for at least a year,” Alvarez said.
All law enforcement officers, whether they work for county, local or federal agencies, have been coached to look for signs of human trafficking among the throngs of Super Bowl fans.
“If you see a young woman. She is not making eye contact with you. She doesn’t have control of her person, meaning that she is not making her own decisions. She doesn’t have control of her money, her credit cards, her identification, her passport and looking for approval to engage with you — those types of things can be indicators that this person may be trafficking or being used for prostitution,” Mann explained.
Chief Llevat said Super Bowl fans will see a higher level of security on Sunday than they’ve seen at other events.
“You’re going to have officers basically everywhere that the eye can see,” he said. “You’re going to see our officers there and there are also going to be a lot of officers that are unseen. You are going to have officers seen and unseen protecting this event and keeping it safe.”