Politics & Government

Security at next year's US Open a concern to local officials

Pierce County officials know they’ll need help from local, state and federal agencies to provide security next June at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place.

Planning will kick into high gear next month now that this year’s championship at Pinehurst, North Carolina, is over.

“We can’t do it on our own,” said Sheriff Paul Pastor, whose department is the lead agency for security. “We have a county to police as well.”

Sheriff’s Department operations chief Rick Adamson said 1,000 security personnel were on site at Pinehurst for the championship that ended Sunday.

About 500 were law enforcement, most from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. The Highway Patrol was highly vi0sible, with blue lights flashing at entrances and state troopers on the course. The other 500 were private security personnel hired by the United States Golf Association, which puts on the U.S. Open.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department has about 300 officers for law enforcement.

Pastor said crowds of 55,000 at the U.S. Open were remarkably well-behaved.

“It’s amazingly civil,” Pastor said. “You don’t hear about golf riots.”

If anything went awry, state troopers were ready to pounce.

That’s what happened Saturday at the 11th hole when the cart driver for NBC Sports analyst Roger Maltbie failed to obey a trooper’s command to stop and struck his leg, according to the trooper. The trooper chased after the driver, climbed onto the cart and strong-armed him into stopping. The driver was handcuffed, taken into custody and charged.

The cart incident could happen at any big golf tournament. But Chambers Bay poses an added security challenge that Pinehurst doesn’t have: a waterfront.

Pastor said the U.S. Coast Guard — with the Sheriff’s Department’s support — plans to limit how close boaters can get to the shore immediately before and during the championship.

Boaters won’t be able to come right up to the shore at Chambers Creek Regional Park. The purpose is to keep someone from being able to launch something onto the course or approach the course, he said.

The sheriff said the Coast Guard won’t determine how far out into Puget Sound the restriction will extend until fall or winter.

Pastor said Friday that he was impressed by how much his department’s leaders have learned and prepared for as a result of observing security at the championship since 2010.

“I don’t have big concerns now,” said Pastor, who made his first trip to a U.S. Open.

One media member observed a noticeable increase in armed federal agents and car searches.

When asked if the increase was in response to the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, the head of the USGA acknowledged changes.

“Our security has evolved over the years, because of the world we live in,” said Thomas O’Toole Jr., president of the USGA.

He said the USGA has a long list of security protocols, which it doesn’t make public.

“We’re just preparing for any contingency,” O’Toole said last week.

Pastor acknowledged there is always the possibility of some kind of incident — terrorist or otherwise — at a large event.

“You always worry where there’s a high-profile event,” he said.

But Pastor said there are multiple layers of security at the U.S. Open, including metal detectors, limits on the size of bags, and tickets scanned for required access.

“People attending the U.S. Open will be some of the most protected people in the world,” Pastor said.

The U.S. Open at Chambers Bay is expected to attract 235,000 spectators over seven days.

Adamson, with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, said security officials at Pinehurst had all the resources they needed.

Pierce County doesn’t have help from other agencies lined up yet.

“We’ll get it eventually,” said Adamson, incident commander for next year’s U.S. Open. “We’re working on it.”

Funding for the State Patrol’s involvement has been a sticking point with the Legislature.

In April, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a portion of the state transportation budget that would have directed the State Patrol to help local officials with traffic control at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.

Inslee said he vetoed the provision because it didn’t include funding for the State Patrol to take on the added duties.

Deputy county executive Kevin Phelps said it’s reasonable to ask for the state’s help because it will get about $6 million in sales tax revenue from the U.S. Open. The county’s portion will be less than $1 million, Phelps said.

Last week, Pierce County officials spent hours in the Joint Operations Center for security adjacent to the course and observed security on the course.

Pastor said the only problems he saw were a few people who had consumed too much alcohol and bags left unattended. He also saw several people treated at first aid stations for dehydration because of the heat and humidity.

Deputy Chief Mitch Sagers of West Pierce Fire & Rescue said there were about 25 fire and emergency medical service workers on site at Pinehurst.

West Pierce could supply that level of help with off-duty overtime, he said.

Sagers said his biggest concern is getting to people who need medical attention. West Pierce plans to add bicycle medic teams like those used at Pinehurst to improve access.

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