DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
New Orleans Saints cheerleader Lindsey Williams at yesterday's Pro Bowl news conference.
Pro Bowl attendees to undergo pat-downs
Football fans should expect a hands-on body search as they enter Aloha Stadium for the Feb. 12 Pro Bowl, a new security measure that has attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"It will be an unobtrusive search, a pat-down of the waist area and the back," said Reuben Bradford, National Football League senior director of security. Security guards hired for the event, not law enforcement officers, will do the searching.
Bradford said the physical searches to detect weapons and other banned items were imposed at all NFL games during the 2005 season. It is an expansion of security measures undertaken since the 2002 Pro Bowl in which handbags, fanny packs, camera equipment and other items may be searched.
A Florida state judge struck down the NFL body search policy in October, and it is under challenge in California in a suit brought by the ACLU.
The ACLU in Hawaii is considering a challenge but wants to hear from ticket holders first, a spokeswoman said yesterday.
The NFL security chief said the search policy was imposed at all games "so that the environments are safe places and fans can enjoy the game," he said. "It is not because of imminent threat or intelligence warnings, but a continuation of league policy. It's all because of where we're living since Sept. 11, 2001. After what happened in London last year, we can't ignore any possibility," he said, referring to the July 7 terrorist bombings of London Underground trains.
A ticket holder who refuses to be searched will be denied entry, under the policy.
"It's treating thousands of fans as if they were guilty," said Vanessa Chong, executive director of the ACLU of Hawaii. "A search in this country is traditionally based on evidence and directed at a particular person.
"We think it creates a false sense of security," she said, because the search is not thorough enough to rule out a hidden weapon. "If thousands of innocent people are subjected to an intrusive search, they will undoubtedly find the guilty few."
Chong said the ACLU would like to hear from fans about whether they were informed of the impending search before they bought tickets.
A Oct. 28 court ruling in Florida put an end to pat-down searches of ticket holders entering Tampa Bay Buccaneers games in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Chong said.
The ACLU filed a suit in December on behalf of San Francisco 49ers season-ticket holders who objected to being searched.
Bradford said extra Wackenhut security personnel will be hired to ensure a fast passage for the expected sold-out crowd of about 50,000 fans. "It should flow smoothly. Our experience through the year is that it has not slowed access."
But, he said, "Folks might want to plan to come 15 minutes early, just in case."
Items that are banned from the stadium include weapons, fireworks, explosives, air horns, noisemakers, cans and bottles, coolers, backpacks, umbrellas, flagpoles and outside food and beverages.