NFL implements enhanced pat-down screenings

Prior to kicking off its first full weekend of games last month, the National Football League announced that it would be conducting enhanced pat-down searches of fans at stadiums across the country.

According to Jeff Miller, vice president and chief security officer of the NFL, the league decided to implement the new policy not because of a specific or credible threat against any of their facilities, but to help improve their overall security processes.

"Looking at the environment and considering things that are occurring, we looked at this process and felt that we could improve the process by enhancing the way we were screening," Miller explained. "We're always looking for ways to improve and this was just one of the recommendations we made as a result of continuously monitoring the environment and what's going on around us in the world and trying to do everything we can to create that safe environment."

Though he couldn't divulge many details about the new pat-downs, Miller said that it is "a bit more extensive." He said the biggest difference between the old and new screening process is that it's going to take stadium security staff a little bit longer to conduct the enhanced pat-downs, which can be exacerbated by factors such as cold weather when people are wearing more layers of clothing.

Overall, however, Miller said the league's clubs have been very receptive of the new policy and some are even working with the NFL to implement other security measures such as using handheld magnetometers.

"I'm very much in support of (handheld magnetometers) and some clubs have begun to deploy those. Some clubs have deployed them in limited ways in the past, but I think there is a possibility that you'll see more of that moving forward," he said.

Despite the new policy, which officially went into effect on Sept. 9, a man attending a game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on Sept. 11 allegedly snuck in a stun gun that he later used on several fans.

"That of course happened on Sept. 11, which was a time when we were doing enhanced screening. So we were screening for different things like weapons in the way of guns and knives and things of that nature," Miller said. "Now this particular device, while I definitely don't want to see a device like that in our stadiums, it's not a device capable of seriously injuring or killing somebody."

Miller said this device was "most likely" able to make into the stadium because it was small and closely resembled a cell phone. He described it as being about 4-inches long and rectangular with a flat shape.

"If it was concealed in a pocket, it would not be something that would have drawn the attention of a screener. If you're using handheld magnetometers wands, obviously that device will come to your attention even if it doesn't protrude in a pocket, you're going to get an indication when you're screening a person that you need to examine," said Miller. "Again, that's something that we look at moving forward and as I said in some places we're using handheld magnetometers and that will obviously be something that will be picked up."

In addition to keeping weapons out, Miller said the league wants to prevent all prohibitive items from entering stadiums including flasks filled with liquor, which he said can also create an unsafe environment for fans.

"If somebody sneaks an alcohol flask containing hard liquor inside the stadium then they're bypassing everything that we've put in place on our fan conduct initiative vis-a-vis the team-trained servers that are actually trained to know when someone is visibly intoxicated and certainly wouldn't serve them under those conditions," he said. "But if somebody has an alcohol flask that they've snuck in they're certainly self-administering and can put themselves at risk and also put other fans at risk by consuming alcohol in exorbitant amounts."

According to Miller, reactions to the new pat-down searches from fans have been mostly positive.

"I've been out to stadiums and observed this in person, and I've seen fans being very cooperative with the screening process. By and large, our fans want to get in efficiently and effectively and they also want to be safe and they don't want prohibited items around them," he said. "They understand what we're trying to accomplish and they have been cooperative. We have had some instances where there have been growing pains. Anytime you change a procedure, you have to effectively communicate with the fans so they know what to expect and what we need from them."

Miller added that fans can also somewhat control their wait times depending on when and how they arrive at stadium entrances.

"Let's be clear, even if we weren't doing this type of screening, you can't just walk up to the gate at the last minute at an NFL stadium or you're going to stand in line," he said. "As we roll this out over the next several weeks, I think that you'll see teams make adjustments in ways that will reduce friction points for fans and make it an effective process to get folks into the stadium."

Dr. Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4), said most people are willing to give up a little bit of their time for better safety and security measures.

"At this point in time in the history of security, I think it's the right decision," Marciani said. "I commend the NFL for taking the aggressive steps to secure stadiums."