Gameday security costs on the rise

Posted on Oct 18 2013 - 9:01am by Phillip Waller
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Texas A&M Mississippi football

Oxford and University of Mississippi police shell out over $85,000 to bring in dozens of additional personnel and pay overtime to their officers every football weekend. Even with the extra resources, officers still bear the brunt of the additional workload.

“It’s long and hard when you have these six games in seven weeks. You get tired, you get run down,” university Chief of Police Calvin Sellers said.

The Dollar Cost

Oxford Chief of Police Joey East said he spends as much as $18,000 in additional costs per game, with $15,000 of that cost going to overtime for his 58 sworn officers.

East said an Oxford game weekend starts Thursday night with a detail of 10 officers earning upward of $20 per hour to control the crowds of fans and students on the Square. Officers can take on up to four hours each for three days, yielding an average of 120 extra man hours for the Square detail alone, East said. By Saturday, Oxford is bursting with fans.

“At any given time, there are 30,000 here, but on a weekend, you triple that,” East said.

He said that he has to schedule 20-30 additional officers to supplement his existing patrol.

At just over half the size of the Oxford Police Department, the University Police Department is too small to absorb the extra demand of a gameday.

“We just don’t have (the officers),” Sellers said. “We’re a small town and a small school.”

Sellers said he hires 60-80 sworn officers from other jurisdictions to provide a police presence on campus. Despite paying what Sellers said was the lowest rate in the SEC for the temporary officers, the university pays $25 per hour. Sellers said comparable work at Louisiana State University could net a department $42 per hour in additional costs.

Even with the university’s lower costs, the department paid $121,715 to temporary officers and $88,772 in overtime to UPD officers for last year’s seven home games, according to a UPD budget provided by Sellers. Adding the $71,659 paid to private security firms for building security and the $8,832 paid to the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department to handle gameday arrests, University Police paid $290,978 for gameday security on campus.

Brian Russell, assistant director for event operations with Ole Miss Athletics, said his department spends $25,000 to $30,000 for a private security force on game days. After adding the cost of a parking detail that has tripled in size since last year, the cost to provide stadium security and parking control is significant. Despite the costs, Russell said bringing in the extra personnel is important to making people want to come back to Oxford.

“The way things are now, people want to feel safe,” Russell said. “They have to feel like they are welcomed.”

East said that the high cost of a gameday comes from the sheer size of the crowds. He said his force cannot manage the increase without additional manpower.

“On most weekends, we handle (the students) with what we have on hand,” East said. “We just have to shift people around when we see the need.”

The Priority Shift

Even with the extra manpower, Oxford and university police officers have to tailor their priorities to the size of the crowds.

“It’s something that we (OPD) have to think about. It’s something that affects your city and your revenue, so you try to accommodate them and support the university,” East said.

East said that when students and fans are not in town, his police force handles quality-of-life issues in the city. On gamedays, he said that his force has to position itself strategically to ensure the highest level of response to emergencies and to keep traffic moving.

“One officer has to be headed east, one has to be headed west, another one north and another one south, especially when it is bumper to bumper and you have 50,000 people on Jackson Avenue,” East said. “It’s just unworkable. The city is just not built for this.”

Sellers said his officers have to manage their priorities on gamedays, too.

“Our main focus is to prevent thefts and fights. We don’t really work traffic,” Sellers said. “Our emphasis on ballgame days is to watch people’s property and the safety of everyone. We have too many people. If we have unruly behavior, we have to deal with it.”

The Human Toll

Despite the additional help from other forces on gameday, university and Oxford police officers have to take the brunt of the increased demand for protection. UPD Officer Kelcy Brooks said officers can face several weeks in a row of long hours with few breaks to relax or spend time with family.

“Seven weekends a year, you really count on being miserable,” Brooks said.

Sellers said university police officers can work 16-hour shifts on some gamedays. The official policy requires officers to go home after that point, but Sellers said that is hard to manage when there are so many officers working.

“Maybe sometimes we don’t exactly go by our own rules, but we have to ask our guys and shift leaders to watch it,” Sellers said. “We definitely don’t want to work anybody to death.”

Despite the department’s effort, Brooks said he feels completely drained by the end of his shift on gameday weekends.

“The last two hours of a 15-hour shift, you’re pretty much useless. You’re basically walking zombies,” Brooks said.

Brooks said he fears what could happen if something happened in the Grove at the end of his shift.

“You only hope that you have enough of us there to diffuse the situation,” he said. “You don’t expect a boxer to run five miles, jump in the ring and start fighting.”

Besides the physical drain, long work hours also take officers away from their families. East said he fields complaints from officers who want more time at home during football season.

“While everyone else is out having a good time, they are here taking care of the city,” East said. “It’s a high cost to them and their family. It takes a toll on them.”

Brooks said his department simply needs more resources.

“If you look at the Grove with 100,000 people in it on some gamedays, even with the 80 extra officers, we’re not quite where we need to be for the amount of people we have here,” Brooks said.

“It’s just not worth the money we get.”