Teamwork on game day
Area law enforcement agencies work together to tackle safety challenges and keep traffic flowing
Story by: Sara Diedrich
Players and coaches aren’t the only ones preparing year-round for Tiger football.
The University of Missouri Police Department and other game day organizers are constantly evaluating security protocols and working diligently to exceed safety standards for home games. They work closely with local, state and federal authorities to adhere to the best practices in the field.
“The law enforcement role is absolutely critical to making everything work,” said Tony Wirkus, director of Events Management and Sustainability with MU’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. “While you might think our officers are just playing the traditional law enforcement role of enforcing rules and directing traffic, they also play another important part with fans: answering questions and sharing information.”
Even when games begin in the evening, the first campus security officers arrive at dawn, taking their posts in the more than 25 parking lots authorized for tailgating. For some workers, their day won’t end until long after the last play of the game.
In total, more than 120 individuals with various law enforcement agencies work a home game.
Stationed in the command center at Memorial Stadium are representatives from MUPD, Boone County Sheriff’s Department, Missouri Highway Patrol, FBI, Columbia Fire Department, Boone County Joint Communications and emergency medical technicians, among others. Each organization plays a specific role but are housed together in the command center, which allows for instant communication and coordinated reaction to emergencies.
Major Brian Weimer, who oversees law enforcement coverage for home games, said MUPD and athletics’ game day coordinators are constantly updating themselves on best practices for how to manage large-scale events.
“It’s a huge undertaking,” Weimer said.
For MUPD, home football games mean all hands on deck — that includes patrol officers, security guards and campus security officers. During an average game, law enforcement is managing more than 61,000 people.
“Athletics is the front porch of the university and a great opportunity to make a good impression,” Weimer said. “We prepare and plan to handle whatever comes our way.”
The most common issue in the first few games of the season is heat-related calls — there were more than 100 heat-related incidents during the game against University of Tennessee-Martin on Sept. 1.
“We have MUPD officers working parking lots, inside the stadium and providing regular coverage to campus,” Weimer said. There also are law enforcement officials working intersections around and beyond the stadium to manage traffic flow before and after the game. The Missouri Department of Transportation even helps by temporarily synching some lights on game days.
Preparations for a Saturday game start early in the week when MUPD and athletics begin using social media to encourage students to move their cars the night before from tailgating lots and to remind fans of the Southeastern Conference’s clear bag policy at the stadium. Game day organizers also meet early in the week to review the last home game and to discuss any upcoming challenges such as this weekend’s Homecoming festivities.
At some point in the hours before kickoff, K-9 teams from MUPD and the Boone County Fire Protection District sweep the stadium for suspicious items. Officers also escort the opposing team, band and cheer squad from their motel to the stadium. Plus, there are law enforcement personnel on the field for warmups and the game.
“Our planning process is nonstop,” Wirkus said. “Sometimes, we’re discussing things for the current season or the upcoming game and other times, we’re discussing issues one or two years in advance, especially with the south end zone under construction.”
A benefit of different law enforcement agencies working together to provide coverage for home Tiger games is that as a result, those same agencies have built strong working relationships, which can benefit the campus community in other times of an emergency.
“We know our roles and our capabilities and most important, that trust is already established,” Weimer said.