The security week that was: 07/10/09

A weekly surveillance of the news shaping your profession

Who pays for security?

Unlike pretty much every other news website on the planet, we have effectively kept Michael Jackson off our homepage until now. That was all until the city started tabulating the overtime hours for Los Angeles police called into action to provide security for the Michael Jackson memorial service held this week at AEG's STAPLES Center.

According to L.A. city councilman Dennis Zine, the overtime costs were tabulated at about $1.1 million dollars (OK, security directors, don't you wish you had that kind of budget?). That single event, which lasted for roughly two days, used the services of almost 4,200 police officers to secure the area around the STAPLES Center, a local cemetery and other high-profile locations that attracted Jackson's legions of fans. And now the question is: Who pays for that?

It's a serious question. Almost all cities right now are facing budget shortfalls, and L.A. is no stranger to those shortfalls – already having to place some city workers on furlough to reign in municipal costs (and this happens as home values have been falling around the area, so property taxes aren't making up any shortfall; they're contributing to the predicament). In late June, the Los Angeles Times estimated the city's budget shortfall to be about $500 million.

Certainly, Los Angeles received a nice bump in tourism dollars as fans from all over the U.S. and the world descended upon the city to buy MJ souvenirs, overpriced sodas, hotel rooms and what-not, but it's pretty clear from the cries of local politicians that the tax dollars didn't come in fast enough to cover these expenses. So, who pays for that overtime for event security? Here are the three possibilities:

  1. AEG forks over some or all of those costs since the firm served as the event promoter for the memorial service.
  2. The city recoups the costs by using an online donation form whereby attendees could donate cash to accommodate the costs the city had to pay out (this is already set up, but there's no word on how successful it's been; it did get set up late and was known to have crashed when too many fans tried to use this option).
  3. The city eats the costs out of its emergency security budget set up for such events, though perhaps not set up for an event of this scale.
  4. The Michael Jackson estate coughs up the dough by selling tours of Neverland or some platinum records.

It's Friday, so I'm happy to arm-chair speculate in this column that we will start to see cities develop clear policies regarding who pays for event security costs. In the 2008 election cycle, we saw cities send bills to presidential campaigns asking them to fork over dollars to help pay for added security when a politician came to town to stand upon the community's soap box.

I expect there are lessons here for corporate security departments as well. Security directors are well versed in the skills of studying the worst "what if" scenarios, but are you also creating budget models to cover those worst "what if" scenarios? Are you asking yourself, how can I get co-op dollars to fund overtime security officers, live event monitoring and even hiring of off-duty police to assist me if we had a massive security event (like a long-drawn out protest at a facility)? Have you tabulated up the hidden costs like providing lunches for round-the-clock efforts (just don't get in to Lunchgate like L.A. did spending about $50,000 for box lunches for officers, and giving the business to a caterer who was not even in the city's tax area)?

It should be a "thriller" to watch the city try to recoup the funds spent on security. To borrow the title of one of Michael Jackson's hit songs from 1979, I'd suggest Los Angeles "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" (to pay for the security costs).

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