If there were a Super Bowl for cutting-edge crime-fighting technology, Minneapolis would be hosting that, too.
That much is clear from stepping inside the Minneapolis Police Department’s state-of-the-art command center, just south of U.S. Bank Stadium, site of Sunday’s game.
Inside the compound, and at smaller command posts around town, federal, state and local agents are monitoring action on the ground and in the sky. On a recent afternoon, a small army of analysts scanned for potential threats on three large, high-definition displays, beaming in live feeds from 2,000 surveillance cameras from the stadium, Nicollet Mall and across the city. A fourth monitor tracks locations of buses and light rail.
Local and federal authorities, without revealing specifics, are using a high-tech security network that during past Super Bowls has included biometric technology like facial-recognition software, as well as license plate readers. Star Tribune reporters had to sign forms agreeing not to disclose the command center’s location.
If they see problems, with a few keystrokes authorities can deploy officers to trouble spots or pull up a live feed from most cameras in the city, including inside the stadium.
The system, developed by a company called Securonet, uses computer analysis of live video images to anticipate problems. It is part of an elaborate security operation, considered the largest in state history — a far cry from the 180 or so cameras that local police had access to in 2012, according to a report from that time.
Security planning began almost as soon as Minneapolis was awarded the game three years ago, though it hit a very public snag last week when a firm providing security at Super Bowl Live on Nicollet Mall was fired for shoddy background checks of its workers.
Some 2,000 Minnesota officers and 1,700 federal officials are working security.
Some officers and agents in the field use FieldWatch, an app that allows them to livestream what they see back to the command center. The FBI also has a command center at its Brooklyn Center office, where agents and analysts are on standby to respond to “worst case” crises, assistant special agent in charge Joseph Rivers said. He said the FBI monitors social media for potential threats and can make available an aircraft for surveillance or “tactical” needs.
On game day, F-15 or F-16 fighters will be on alert to deploy at a moment’s notice if any aircraft enters the restricted airspace over the stadium. Dogs trained in vapor wake detection are guarding events on Nicollet Mall.
The total police budget for the event stands at $3.7 million, though that figure could rise. The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee has pledged to reimburse the city for costs.
Frank Straub, a former Indianapolis police chief who oversaw security for the 2012 Super Bowl, said that because of the fast pace of technology, each Super Bowl looks like an expo for crime-fighting tools.
In addition to cameras that recognize faces in a crowd, security officials in Indianapolis relied on pattern analysis software used to anticipate threatening situations. For example, “I put down a backpack and I walk away from it and I don’t come back,” Straub said, describing a scenario that the technology might flag.
The far-reaching surveillance is what keeps privacy advocates like Matt Ehling awake at night.
“There has been use of facial recognition technology integrated into video networks on an experimental basis in past Super Bowls,” said Ehling, executive director of Public Record Media, a local nonprofit that monitors government spending.
NFL security chief Cathy Lanier said officials are trying to balance concerns about privacy with public safety.
“We have to make sure that people not only feel safe when they come in, but that they are safe,” she said.