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Security huddle promises safe Super Bowl

Pinellas sheriff’s Deputy Rick Tapia trains Vader, a 9-year-old German shepherd adept at sniffing out explosives,  at the Tampa stadium  Wednesday.

Pinellas sheriff’s Deputy Rick Tapia trains Vader, a 9-year-old German shepherd adept at sniffing out explosives, at the Tampa stadium Wednesday.

TAMPA — The meeting Wednesday included representatives from the FBI, Homeland Security and Energy departments, and the Coast Guard.

But the topic of conversation wasn't the war in Iraq or port security.

It was Super Bowl XLIII, set to be played Feb. 1 at Raymond James Stadium.

The meeting at the stadium drew about 100 law enforcement officers from more than a dozen organizations. Ultimately, about 900 agents and officers will help keep the game safe, organizers say.

"This is not the Super Bowl of security," said NFL vice president of security Milt Ahlerich. "We try very hard not to have security overwhelm our fans."

It's not clear how much the involvement of public agencies, including the Tampa Police Department, Tampa Fire Rescue and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, will cost taxpayers, but Ahlerich said the NFL alone has budgeted more than $6-million for the effort.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio has pledged to keep the city's in-kind contribution to the Super Bowl, including police and fire protection, at $1-million.

Tampa police Maj. James Bennett said that given the current economic climate, a priority will be making security cost-effective.

Susan McCormick, an investigator for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said her office has reviewed about 8,500 applications of people hoping to volunteer or work at Super Bowl XLIII facilities. She expects to review another 22,000.

Her office is looking for people in the country illegally. McCormick said such people may not have "ill intent" against the United States, but "we know they may be susceptible to blackmail by those who want to harm Americans. That potential vulnerability will be neutralized."

McCormick said "appropriate law enforcement action will be taken" against undocumented workers discovered through the screening process, though she declined to say whether they would be deported.

The agency also is looking for counterfeit merchandise and tickets. At last season's Super Bowl in Arizona, the agency seized more than 9,500 pieces of counterfeit memorabilia and clothing valued at nearly $500,000.

Suspicious activity can be reported, toll-free, at 1-866-347-2423.

Super Bowl security has become a priority since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

A 300-foot security area around the stadium will close Tampa Bay Boulevard between Dale Mabry Highway and Himes Avenue, beginning Jan. 7. On game day, portions of Dale Mabry and Himes also will be closed.

Anyone who enters the security fence on game day will face a pat-down, bag search and sweep with a metal detector. Dogs will sniff packages brought into the stadium, including gear carried by reporters.

X-ray machines will scan trucks that come within the security barricades, said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

And federal agents will gather intelligence.

"The No. 1 priority of the FBI is to prevent the next terrorist attack, and that's what we're doing with our intelligence," said FBI agent Steven Ebison.

"We will have significant manpower and resources available if something were to occur," he said.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Security huddle promises safe Super Bowl 12/10/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 4:50pm]
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