The crack of a gunshot in an AT&T Stadium parking lot after the Cowboys-Patriots game last month sent Arlington police Lt. Carol Riddle into action. After running to the scene, she jumped in front of a car about to leave the area and arrested its two occupants, one of whom now faces a murder charge.
Not a typical shift for Riddle. In her years of working Cowboys games and other entertainment venues, that level of heroics had never been called for.
In fact, untangling traffic snarls, posing for selfies with fans and handing out police decals to kids are closer to routine for the AT&T Stadium security detail headed by the Arlington Police Department, an operation that can include officers from a dozen other law enforcement agencies. It’s about deterrence and, just as important, public relations, police officials say.
7:3 Ratio of Arlington police officers to officers from other cities who typically work security at AT&T Stadium
An officer working traffic, for example, can expect to direct drivers to not just stadium lots but also nearby businesses that offer discount parking, said Riddle, a 16-year department veteran. “So it’s not just about securing the stadium and making sure they’re safe. It’s about getting the fans in so they can have a good time while they’re here.”
While homicides at NFL stadiums might be rare, arrests are not. Arlington police have made 30 of them so far this season, compared with 106 for all of 2014 and 54 in the 2013 season.
Most arrests are for public intoxication, both at AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park in Arlington, where 30 people were arrested this season, 24 in the 2014 and 42 in 2013.
Arlington police arrested an unruly fan during the Cowboys-Seahawks game Sunday who had climbed onto a deck reserved for cheerleaders and refused to return to his seat. A day later, security officials at the Carolina Panthers’ home field watched as two environmental activists rappelled down Bank of America Stadium during Monday Night Football, The Charlotte Observer reported.
“We’re always concerned if people can bring in something that could disrupt the game,” Panthers security chief Lance Emory said Tuesday. “Was it a bomb? No. Did anybody get hurt? Thank God, no. Those are our first considerations, but sure, it’s concerning.”
NFL teams each have a four-hour online “fan code of conduct class” for fans who have been ejected from their stadium for improper behavior.
In January 2013, an investigation by the CBS affilitate in Seattle found that the National Football League keeps detailed records of crime, alcohol abuse and security failures inside every NFL stadium on game day but does not make the data public. The station reviewed reports of hundreds of felony-level crime arrests, including rape, kidnapping, lynching, theft, drug dealing, child sexual abuse and aggravated assault of police officers, and thousands of misdemeanor offenses like public intoxication, simple assault, exposure and scalping.
Each Monday or Tuesday, CBS Sports columnist Gregg Doyel reported last year, citing an NFL employee, the fan security coordinator for each home team taps into a private online server to post numbers on arrests, ejections, injuries, weapons confiscated, hospitalizations and more.
Funding for the off-duty officers and other stadium security staff comes from the Cowboys. Arlington police, under protection of state law, don’t discuss how many officers they use for security on any given Sunday, for fear of tipping their hand to those who might exploit perceived weaknesses. But Lt. Christopher Cook, chief spokesman for the Police Department, said the ratio of Arlington officers to other officers is about 7 to 3. All of those outside officers, regardless of rank in their own departments, serve under the Arlington command.
$51-$67 Hourly pay, depending on their rank, of off-duty police officers working security at Cowboys home games
Cook emphasized that all Arlington officers involved are off duty so that the security project doesn’t siphon any manpower from the police force that patrols street city streets and neighborhoods.
“We’ve wanted to make clear from the beginning that there would be no deterioration to our geographic policing model and neighborhood integrity,” Cook said.
“It’s not mandatory,” he added. “It’s if you want to make extra money.”
Officers on the stadium parking lots circulate in assigned sectors — in football terms, they play zone defense — while other officers work inside the stadium, where they interact with fans and back up the stadium’s security staff.
When Riddle was flagged down by witnesses the night of the fight — before the shooting — she was within 15 rows of parking spaces from it, Cook said, a result of well-designed patrol sectors set up in the stadium’s vast parking lots.
Cook said the security operation draws from a pool of about 60 area law enforcement agencies. The most regular contributors include the police departments of Keller, Fort Worth, Colleyville, Haltom City, White Settlement, Grand Prairie, Euless, Pantego, Burleson and Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department.
By comparison, only the Arlington police and Texas Department of Public Safety are contracted regularly to provide traffic control and security at the Rangers’ ballpark.
Cook said all officers who provide security at AT&T Stadium, Globe Life Park and Six Flags Over Texas first take an online course that teaches “the Arlington way” of treating the public.
We treat people with compassion, we treat them fair, and we try to make sure we get them to their destinations as quickly as possible.
Arlington police Lt. Christopher Cook on the mindset of officers working security in the city’s entertainment district
Passing requires a thorough knowledge of venue parking lots and entrances and other things patrons might ask officers how to find. But mostly, the course insists that everyone an officer encounters in the entertainment district be treated as a tourist, someone who spends money in Arlington and should be encouraged to come back.
Lesson: If a motorist rolls down a window and asks directions, the wrong answer is, “Keep moving!” Cook said. “We treat people with compassion, we treat them fair and we try to make sure we get them to their destinations as quickly as possible.”
The police security officers also work other AT&T Stadium events, which have ranged from concerts and tractor pulls to the Cotton Bowl and the college basketball Final Four tournament.
The police security and traffic control is one component in command operation system that also includes the Arlington Fire Department, public works and code enforcement commands. It’s organized under the guidelines of the federal National Incident Management System, which makes threat assessments and determines how many security officers are needed for the size and type of venue.
But for the most part, security is shrouded in secrecy.
AT&T Stadium meets and exceeds NFL and industry standards regarding safety and security practices.
AT&T Stadium spokesman Rich Dalrymple
“The safety of our fans, clubs, players and workers at games is paramount to the NFL,” Brian McCarthy, the league’s vice president for communication, said in an email. “The clubs, working in conjunction with local law enforcement officials and private security companies, have a comprehensive plan that is continually reviewed and where necessary improved.”
AT&T Stadium spokesman Rich Dalrymple also declined to discuss security issues, saying in an email: “Our primary concern for all visitors and guests is ensuring a safe and pleasurable experience at the stadium, and we work closely with the Arlington Police Department toward achieving that goal at every event. AT&T Stadium meets and exceeds NFL and industry standards regarding safety and security practices.”
At the Seahawks game Sunday, Rusty Doyle of Baytown stood across from one food court, watching streams of people crisscrossing in front of him as he waited for friends. He wasn’t at all self-conscious about the Seahawks jersey he was wearing.
“I’ve found that Cowboy fans are one of the safest groups in pro football,” he said. “I feel very comfortable around them.”
Cook, who watches opposing fans from around the country as they filter through the phalanx of security at AT&T Stadium, vouches for that.
“I hear this all the time — we have the nicest crowds compared to other stadiums,” he said. “Sometimes, you go up north and they’ll throw stuff at you if you’re wearing the wrong jersey, yell at you. But even if they’re here for the other team, they say Texas people are nice.”
About that heroism. Sometimes it exists in helpful little deeds. Ask Patricia Wise of Jackson, Miss., attending her first professional football game to treat her grandson. She took a long walk from a distant parking sector to ask for help for her husband, who was recovering from hip surgery and hobbling too much to make the long trek to the stadium, let alone to their seats.
“We didn’t realize how much walking there would be,” Wise said.
Normally, the Cowboys have a couple of carts available to help in such cases, Riddle said, but so close to game time, she figured they were busy.
“While the Police Department typically doesn’t give rides, it’s much quicker and easier for me to go pick up her husband and drop them over at the gate they need to go to, rather than have them wait an extended period of time for a Cowboys cart,” Riddle said, adding with a grin: “So it’s just an extra perk that they get to ride in a cart with a police officer.”