The biggest sporting event ever to hit Pierce County comes with a security plan to match.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers from federal, state and local agencies will join hundreds more private security guards to patrol inside and outside the grounds of Chambers Bay golf course during the U.S. Open golf championship from June 15-21.
Some will be in full uniform. Some will be undercover. Burlington Northern Santa Fe security personnel will police the train tracks that skirt the course to the west. Coast Guard boats will patrol a 1,000-yard buffer zone in Puget Sound.
Streets near the course have been closed. Aerial drones, aside those used by Fox Sports to cover the event, have been banned.
“It takes a lot of resources to be able to man this,” deputy county executive Kevin Phelps told the County Council last month.
Precisely how many resources remains a secret. Neither the United States Golf Association nor Pierce County would divulge specifics ahead of the event.
“We don’t really release the public safety plan because we want it to be a secure site,” Danny Sink, the USGA’s championship director for Chambers Bay, told reporters last month. “But we do everything we can.”
The cost of implementing the plan also remains undisclosed. Phelps told The News Tribune last month the county would not release figures until after the championship.
“We’ll provide a real good accounting then,” he said.
Documents obtained by The News Tribune and public statements made by those involved in crafting the plan show the price could climb higher than $2 million, with about $1 million of that coming from funds paid to the county by the USGA in exchange for use of Chambers Bay.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is the lead agency for providing security.
For officers coming in from outside agencies, the county is on the hook for up to $72 for every hour of overtime logged, plus food and lodging expenses, among other costs.
County Council chairman Dan Roach and Councilman Derek Young raised concerns about costs earlier this year. Roach told the News Tribune this week that the Sheriff’s Department scaled back security plans after those concerns were raised. The current plan still meets USGA standards, Roach said.
He added that he’s been assured by the County Executive’s Office that there will be enough money from existing funds to cover the costs of the security plan.
“If it comes in more than that, there are going to be a lot of people who are unhappy,” Roach said.
Young said he and the rest of the council have received similar assurances.
“I’m confident that it’s not an issue,” Young told The News Tribune.
He said county officials are not sharing exact figures ahead of the U.S. Open because the plan and its price fall under a “national security” exemption to public disclosure rules. “It’s for good reason,” he said.
Whatever the cost, Phelps has said the plan is more than adequate to keep people safe.
“The work has been very robust, and the USGA and the county are very comfortable that we have a great plan in place,” he told the County Council.
Providing security for an event like the U.S. Open is a huge undertaking.
The championship is expected to draw more than 30,000 people per day to the 950-acre golf course in University Place.
“Many people have described this as a Super Bowl a day for seven days,” said Sheriff’s Department Capt. Scott Mielcarek. “It’s a very large venue. It’s not as a contained as a stadium. It does provide some unique challenges.”
Although previous U.S. Opens have gone off without major incident, Sink agreed with Mielcarek.
“Golf events are vulnerable,” Sink said recently. “We’re out in the open.”
Complicating matters at Chambers Bay are the facts that the golf course is located on the shores of Puget Sound and that a major rail line runs alongside the western boundaries of the venue. Burlington Northern Santa Fe has said it doesn’t intend to restrict train travel during the championship.
A group of people opposed to using trains for transporting oil through the region reportedly will be in kayaks on Puget Sound near the golf course June 21 to protest.
Sink said that shouldn’t be a problem as long as they do not breach the 1,000-yard buffer zone.
“Everyone’s got their right to protest,” he told reporters last month. “But we don’t want people to beach their boats. We don’t know what’s in their boats.”
The Sheriff’s Department has been working for years to formulate a plan to protect the world’s best golfers and the estimated 235,000 spectators who will descend on University Place to watch them, Mielcarek told The News Tribune last month.
Sheriff’s officials have traveled to the sites of previous U.S. Opens to observe security operations at those events, said Mielcarek, who’s attended four himself.
“We were able to observe a lot and learn a lot,” he said.
While they have not committed to a number, Sheriff’s Department officials have hinted it would take as many as 450 commissioned officers each day to secure the event.
Pierce County has designated at least 100 deputies to work the U.S. Open, according to documents obtained by The News Tribune. The State Patrol has assigned 200 troopers to the event.
Phelps told the County Council last month that the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and police agencies from Tacoma, Lakewood, Puyallup, University Place and Thurston County have agreed to provide officers or other help. Officers from the Yakima County city of Union Gap also responded to a letter seeking officers, which Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor sent in February to law enforcement agencies around the state.
“This is a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary approach to what’s going on,” Phelps said.
State troopers will be assigned to work traffic control between two large off-site spectator parking areas and the golf course, Phelps said. Those areas are Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood and the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup, he said. Troopers also will provide security at those parking lots.
Other jurisdictions will provide uniformed and undercover police to provide patrols on the grounds of Chambers Bay and areas around it, including helping to provide traffic control in University Place, Phelps said.
But the bulk of the security on the grounds will be provided by private security guards hired by the USGA, Phelps said.
“Really, what they envision is that our security only gets engaged if the level of activity ratchets up beyond what a private security person could handle,” Phelps told the County Council. “We would step in if there was a suspicious package or some kind of activity where there may be a potential arrest.”
Pierce County will maintain a joint operations center and communications/dispatch facility on the golf course 24 hours a day throughout the championship, Phelps added.
What’s more, the county’s Geographic Information System division has mapped every structure on the golf course, plus all the entrances and exits and other pertinent information, Phelps said.
“So if we have a response, the dispatch people will have access to those structures so they can be giving live instructions to the responders,” he said.
Security supervisors also will know who is on duty and where for every minute of the championship, Phelps said.
OVERTIME, FOOD AND LODGING
All that security won’t come cheap.
Pierce County has agreed to reimburse agencies providing officers up to $72 per hour “for overtime worked at the U.S. Open and overtime incurred to backfill personnel assigned to the U.S. Open,” according to a memorandum of understanding between Pierce County and Thurston County, which has agreed to send nine deputies to help.
That means the county also will be paying, if necessary, the costs of law enforcement officers who stay behind to police their own jurisdictions.
Pierce County is providing housing at Pacific Lutheran University for officers coming in from outside the county and will reimburse them for meals at a rate of $10 for breakfast, $15 for lunch and $31 for dinner, the memo states.
Pierce County also has agreed to pay any costs should an officer from outside the county be required to testify in court or provide a deposition related to an incident at the U.S. Open.
Footing all those bills is one of the reasons Pierce County leaders have warned the County Council that the county might only break even despite standing to collect an estimated $4 million in revenue associated with the tournament.
“We feel that at the end of the day we will receive money as a result of carrying out this event, but it will pay for all those costs,” County Executive Pat McCarthy told the County Council last month. “That’s kind of the break-even mentality.”
Pierce County is getting some help.
In addition to the $750,000 from the state, the city of Tacoma has agreed to pitch in $290,000 and University Place $50,000, county leaders said. Those jurisdictions expect to make up that money and more in increased tax revenue generated by the championship.
‘EVERY LEVEL OF PRECAUTION’
Sink said the security plan is more than adequate to keep players and spectators safe during the championship.
“All vehicles coming into the site will be scanned. We send everyone through metal detectors,” Sink said. “This is one of the most robust security plans you’d ever see at a sporting event. We take every level of precaution we can to ensure that everyone is safe here.”
Phelps agreed, saying he thinks the undisclosed amount of cash to be expended will be money well spent.
“We’re confident that we’ve achieved an appropriate level of security at an appropriate level of costs,” he said.