How to Keep Sports Venue Parking Lots Safe and Secure

Paul Steinbach Headshot
( © David Sucsy)
( © David Sucsy)

Bryan Stow called his walker-assisted trek onto the Municipal Stadium field "a little scary." On April 16, Stow underhanded a ceremonial first pitch about 15 feet, to the roar of the San Jose Giants' Opening Night crowd.

Life has become a frightening journey for Stow, the San Francisco Giants fan who was beaten nearly to death four years earlier and 340 miles to the south, in Lot 2 outside Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The incident — which took place March 31, 2011, at approximately 8:25 p.m., more than 20 minutes after Los Angeles had defeated San Francisco 2-1 on Opening Day — served as a wake-up call not only for the Dodgers, who along with the assailants would wind up on the losing end of an $18 million jury decision, but sports organizations everywhere.

"Parking areas are one of the most important issues I focus on," says crowd-management consultant Bill Georges, president and CEO of The Georges Group LLC. "Left unchecked and unmanaged, parking areas have the greatest potential to be the breeding ground for bad behavior."

Gil Fried, who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs during Stow's civil trial last year, told Gameday Security that the testimony of eyewitnesses indicated that the assailants had been drinking heavily that day, perhaps before and during the game, as well as smoking marijuana at their car afterward. The bigger issue for Fried, who chairs the sports management department at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, was the deployment of postgame parking lot security. "The testimony is very clear that the two off-duty police officers hired by the Dodgers to be in that parking lot weren't even in that parking lot yet," Fried says. "This assault happened 20-plus minutes after the game ended. There was no one there to monitor the parking lot on behalf of the Dodgers during that time period."

According to published reports, Dodger Stadium's private security detail on that day included 124 state-licensed guards, 54 off-duty law enforcement officers wearing security polo shirts, and 19 uniformed off-duty police officers. Also present were representatives from the FBI, the California Highway Patrol and the Los Angeles Fire Department, as were approximately 200 on-duty LAPD officers stationed outside the stadium and in its parking lots.

The individuals assigned to Lot 2 fell into the polo-shirt category. This is noteworthy, given that the Dodgers' acting head of security at the time of the attack, Shahram Ariane, had previously left his post as Dodgers head of security in part to protest an organizational decision to deemphasize its uniformed gameday security presence. In fact, the Dodgers went four months during the 2010-11 offseason without a security head until the return on an interim basis of Ariane, who nonetheless defended the pair assigned to Lot 2 on Opening Day as "just one tool in the tool chest. It wasn't the only presence we had out there."

To jury members, it wasn't enough.

Parking lots can be particularly volatile after games, when fans — often wearing their opposing allegiances across their chests and stripped of inhibition by their own alcohol consumption — are exiting en masse. This is especially true for close games, when the vast majority of fans stay until the end and then exit.

"The best way to address it as a sport organization — whether it's a pro team or a college team or anybody else — is to make sure you're vigilant in monitoring areas and not resting on your laurels that you had a safe event, because then there's complacency," Fried says. "If you're not as vigilant at the end of the game as you are before the game, there could be issues. If you look at how many people are there to make sure fans get in the facility correctly, wouldn't you want to have the same number out there when fans are leaving the facility?

"You have to have just as much vigilance in the parking lot as you do inside the facility itself," Fried continues. "You can't say, 'Well, that's not my responsibility.' And I think that that might have been something that the Stow jurors picked up on. The Dodgers were saying, 'It's not our issue. It should be the police.' It doesn't matter if you're going to have police there. Yeah, you should coordinate your activities with the police, but there's something called non-delegable duty. You have a duty to provide a safe environment."

At Louisiana State University, every football weekend is a mini-Mardi Gras, and for marquee home games such as a visit by Alabama, nearly as many fans descend upon Baton Rouge solely to party as the 102,000 who hold tickets to Tiger Stadium. Says Capt. Cory Lalonde of the LSU Police Department, "It is a situation where the culture of tailgating is almost as big as the game itself here at LSU, so it is something that we have to try to account for in law enforcement."

Law enforcement in this case means not only a good share of LSU's 70 officers, but representatives of the Baton Rouge Police Department, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, the Louisiana State Police and the Louisiana Department of Public Safety, as well as the Baton Rouge Constable's Office and law enforcement agencies from surrounding communities — between 350 and 400 officers total per game, according to Lalonde. As many as 100 officers may be assigned outside the stadium for traffic control and parking lot patrols either on mountain bikes or in vehicles.

"You put that many people on campus in the tailgating environment and you add alcohol, that is going to lend itself to having some instances happening," Lalonde says. "But for the most part, that's not the issue we've seen the most. In the past, we've had issues from time to time with car burglary, thefts, things of that nature."

Communication has helped reduce the number of such incidents in recent years, Lalonde adds. "First and foremost, we try to educate the people who come and tailgate in those areas to take the time before they go into the game to secure their items as best they can," he says. "Don't take for granted that those items are still going to be there when you come back. We also try to proactively patrol those lots and tailgating areas as much as we possibly can. Even with that number of officers on campus, we still can't be everywhere at once."

In addition to patrols by uniformed and plain-clothes officers, LSU police on duty during gamedays monitor select surveillance cameras among the 850 spread throughout campus. "There is no one silver bullet when battling crime," Lalonde says. "Surveillance cameras are an additional tool that we use as a deterrent and during investigations to identify persons who were involved if an incident does happen."

Communication is likewise at the center of new efforts by TEAM Coalition to address alcohol abuse and the security issues it can create outside a stadium's footprint. "People drinking alcohol in an uncontrolled environment outside sports and entertainment facilities can result in very dangerous behavior," says Jill Pepper, executive director of TEAM Coalition (it stands for Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management), which is working with a handful of NFL teams on the implementation of a program called TURF – Tailgaters Urging Responsibility & Fun. "The idea is to get the message of the fan code of conduct for the venue into the hands of the guests even before they enter the stadium."

In addition to that outreach, TEAM training educates parking lot personnel as to their important role in mitigating trouble. "Underage drinking and binge drinking are two of the biggest challenges venue operators face with respect to alcohol, and parking lot employees — including security and law enforcement officers — have an amazing opportunity to identify and intervene regarding high-risk behavior well before it gets out of control," Pepper says. "Communication is the key. If parking lot employees are not equipped to intervene, they can easily share what they see with the next tier of security or guest services."

According to Paul Turner, director of event operations and security at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, tailgating represents an "event before the event," and venue managers must consider the operation of their parking lots as an extension of the facility itself. "As such, the same level of planning and care needs to go into the management of parking and gathering spaces outside the venue gates and entrances," Turner says. "Security staff, police, fire and medical personnel need to be in place and in sufficient numbers to ensure the safety of the crowd and the responsible management of the property. In addition, the necessary command and control operations need to be activated so that these services can be properly coordinated."

AT&T Stadium employs what it calls a Courtesy Patrol operation that dispatches security and guest services personnel in golf carts into the parking lots. "They are our ambassadors — greeting guests, informing them of the fan code of conduct and tailgating policies. They are there to build a rapport with fans and encourage responsible behavior and compliance with venue rules," Turner says. "If an issue or concern develops, our Courtesy Patrol staff are able to address the matter immediately. Police, fire and medical services are also available and on patrol in the lots and tailgating areas."

Ideally, the patrols only need to serve as "a visible reminder to our guests that we are here to maintain order," says Turner, adding that unlike some venues that shut down tailgating activity shortly after a game starts, AT&T Stadium allows it before, during and after Dallas Cowboys games. "Our Event Command Post that oversees and coordinates all stadium activity opens when parking lots open, so that the area can be monitored and resources can be dispatched where and when they are needed," Turner says. "We have many people who come to the game and do not have tickets. They just tailgate the entire time. So our parking lots remain active for the duration of the event day. We close lots two hours post-game."

"I think that it's important to note here that managing the lots in no way means curtailing tailgating, as these activities are time-honored traditions and a part of the gameday experience," says Georges. "That said, it is imperative that patrons understand that they must follow the rules and act responsibly. If patrons don't have to follow any rules in the lots, then there is a greater chance that they feel like they don't have to follow the rules inside the venue. Venues must view and include the parking areas as a key component of their overall security plan."

Fried, who authored the textbook used by the International Association of Venue Managers in its Academy for Venue Safety and Security, recognizes the challenges inherent in patrolling acres of asphalt. And the Dodgers had met with the LAPD to craft what Ariane described as an extensive, detailed plan prior to Opening Day 2011.

But planning is only as good as the execution. "You can't plan for every single potential problem, but rather for what's more likely to occur based upon foreseeability," Fried says. "In the situation involving the Dodger Stadium parking lot, there had been prior stabbings. There had been other issues that had occurred in the past. So it was known that, yes, there could be serious issues here, and that's why the Dodgers planned for it by saying, 'We have to have personnel there.' The personnel just wasn't there."

Sox Sued

( Cavalleri)( Cavalleri)

Considering the many millions of visitors who park their vehicles in stadium and arena parking lots nationwide each year, incidents with consequences as severe as the Bryan Stow beating remain isolated. But vigilance must be ongoing.

On May 21, Kenneth and Michelle Budka filed a lawsuit against the Chicago White Sox, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority and three men who the couple caught urinating on their car at U.S. Cellular Field after a White Sox game on July 19, 2014. The suit claims the plaintiffs were "violently attacked, beaten, punched and kicked" after confronting the men, and that the two organizations were responsible for providing security and supervision of the parking lots before and after games, and failed to do so.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the suit claims battery and negligence and is seeking at least $100,000 in damages.

9 Parking Lot Priorities

According to crowd-management consultant Bill Georges, a key objective of both law enforcement and security personnel assigned to parking areas should be "to keep a nice crowd nice." Fans should be instructed to have fun and enjoy the experience, but to do so respectfully and legally. Here are nine core recommendations Georges makes regarding parking lot security:

1. A point person should be designated that is responsible for/oversees all parking area matters.

2. The fan code of conduct should be highly visible through the use of electronic and static signage.

3. Parking services personnel should be strategically placed to facilitate an orderly flow into the lots. 

4. Law enforcement, in concert with security personnel, must be assigned to the lots and deployed at the same time the lots open, not later.

5. Patrols should be proactive, engaging the crowds and encouraging a fun but responsible environment for all.

6. Data from past events should be analyzed/used to predict "hot spots," so that special attention can be given to those areas.

7. Policies should be clear to all personnel so that they are fully aware of what's expected of them.

8. Obvious illegal behavior should always be terminated, with a verbal warning (in lieu of arrest) sufficing more often than not.

9. Post-game vigilance should be emphasized. Lots should be cleared no later than two hours after the game has ended.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Gameday Security with the title "ASPHALT JUNGLES"

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