With Super Bowl festivities swinging into full gear, so have the massive security measures that have lent downtown Minneapolis a distinctly military ambience.
Police officers with bomb-sniffing dogs patrol skyways and downtown streets. Rifle-toting deputies in Army fatigues and helmets stand watch over Nicollet Mall, which has been swamped with visitors to the Super Bowl Live event. Video feeds from 2,000 cameras are monitored in a law-enforcement command center near U.S. Bank Stadium.
Devon Bryant accepts the added security as a necessary inconvenience that comes with an event of this magnitude. Still, he says, the sight of heavily armed deputies strolling downtown takes some getting used to.
“It’s just jarring on your normal route to see a military vehicle there,” said Bryant, a St. Paul resident who plays bass in the local rock trio Fury Things.
In the time it took Lisa Cook to walk across the Hennepin Avenue Bridge to her job downtown, she had counted two “convoys” consisting of three “armored vehicles and a variety of marked and unmarked vans and trucks,” along with dozens of officers from departments around the metro, she said.
“It just feels ominous just thinking that we are so exposed, just by virtue of being in the spotlight,” she said.
Police radio traffic crackled earlier this week with requests for K-9s to sniff unattended boxes and packages in the skyway. Security guards in reflective vests and hats looked inside bags and underneath coats of visitors entering the cordoned-off intersection where Nicollet Mall meets 8th Street, site of the main Super Bowl Live stage.
Minneapolis police spokeswoman Sgt. Darcy Horn said the game’s security plan involves at least 3,000 law-enforcement personnel — mostly officers, but also detectives and crime analysts from 60 departments across the state and 40 federal agencies — during the lead-up to Sunday’s game.
About 400 Minnesota National Guard members will be deployed at key events around town, and in St. Paul and Bloomington.
Earlier this month, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo assured city officials that the heightened security wouldn’t resemble a “military occupation,” while acknowledging that people may notice more officers on the streets.
Police squad cars are parked at the entrances to the promenade’s pedestrian area, along with concrete barriers, to guard against potential vehicle-ramming attacks. As pedestrians crossed Nicollet Mall at 10th Street on Monday evening, a pair of tan, armored Humvees rolled onto the street to block traffic in both directions. Only after the “Don’t Walk” sign flashed on and the last pedestrian had crossed did they reopen the road.
There are unseen elements, too: snipers perched on rooftops and in buildings in strategic places around downtown and plainclothes officers blending into crowds. A reporter visiting Nicollet Mall on Monday was approached by a plainclothes officer identifying himself as “NFL security,” who asked why the reporter was taking photographs and asked to see his media credentials.
Meanwhile, police specialists, working out of a command center, are monitoring video feeds across the city.
In the main room of the command center sit three screens larger than anything you can buy at Best Buy. In real time, they broadcast U.S. Bank Stadium on three-dimensional maps, Homeland Security data and exactly where police officers are patrolling. A fourth smaller screen tracks buses and trains.
More than 80 people with law enforcement agencies, city and county attorneys’ offices and even Super Bowl broadcaster NBC are crammed into the center, which has been operational since Thursday.
“The best of the best is in this room,” said Minneapolis police Cmdr. Bruce Folkens, who along with Cmdr. Scott Gerlicher will run operations.
Each Super Bowl venue in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington has a much smaller command center. If an incident happens, staff can quickly find a camera and monitor a live feed. Same goes for officers on the streets, who have cellphone apps to do so, said Folkens.
If there was an act of terrorism during the game, the FBI would take control of the center, said Folkens. While a downtown stadium adds site-specific security concerns, it can actually make it easier to respond quickly, he said.
“I have 100 percent confidence we will have a safe, secure, fun Super Bowl,” he said. “I know the planning involved. And we are ready for anything.”