Kansas City and Green Bay are both hosting major NFL games on Sunday, with the Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game and the Green Bay Packers hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game. With the COVID-19 pandemic still spreading and new security threats emerging, protecting these types of major events has become even more challenging.

PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler spoke with Kansas City, MO Chief Richard Smith, Green Bay Chief Andrew Smith, and Green Bay Commander Paul Ebel about their preparations for the games and related concerns.


Green Bay Chief Andrew Smith

The biggest challenge with last Saturday’s playoff game was that the bars in Green Bay were overwhelmed with people celebrating and watching the game. Right now there’s no limit to the bar capacity. That’s in litigation and in the courts now. So bars are at 100% capacity. And there a lot of people with pent-up energy and desire to celebrate, drink, and watch the Packers at these sports bars. We saw people elbow-to-elbow, packed in these bars to maximum capacity, drunk, with no masks. For police departments in the region, as well as for the media, that’s probably the biggest immediate issue.

Chuck Wexler: How is the current COVID situation in the city of Green Bay?

Chief Smith: In Wisconsin we had a big spike this fall and into the winter. We had a lot of officers contract the virus – probably 40 out of the 185 we have. Right now we have one out, so it’s backed off a little bit. However, we’re still trying to be as vigilant as we can.

Originally, Wisconsin reduced the number of people who could be in a venue down to 25% of capacity. That went back and forth in the courts, and right now they’re waiting for a state Supreme Court decision, so they’re able to open at 100% capacity.

And Michigan, which is 100 miles north of us, has been completely closed. We’re getting a lot of people coming down from Michigan just to go out to a restaurant or bar.

Wisconsin’s mask mandate states that once someone is seated and eating or drinking, they don’t need to be wearing their mask.

Since the beginning, our enforcement posture has been that this is more of a public health issue than a public safety issue. Whenever we are notified of a violation, we report that to public health. They make a determination about what they’ll do. If a bar owner calls us about someone who won’t wear a mask or leave, we’ll certainly respond. We’ll arrest someone for disorderly conduct or trespassing if we have to, but most of the time it’s education. The actual enforcement of the mask mandate falls on the county health department.

Wexler: Is the public pushing you to do something about these bars?

Chief Smith: Very much so. We’re putting out public service announcements. We met with the tavern league on several occasions. And we urge people to use common sense. Bars don’t have to be completely full.

But if I own a bar near Lambeau Field, I haven’t had any business all summer or fall, and now people are dying to get out to the bars to watch the Packers. I think they’re filling up to the maximum so they can make up for all the lost revenue this year.

It’s a big concern for the community. There’s a lot of talk on social media and in traditional media that we need to do more. We’re trying to do more with education, because we don’t have a lot of enforcement options available to us.

Wexler: To change topics a bit, have Green Bay police officers started receiving the vaccine?

Chief Smith: We started on Saturday, and we’re with the first responders in tier 1B. Tier 1A was the healthcare workers. When I got my shot over the weekend, a lot of the healthcare workers were there getting their second shot.

We asked our officers who was interested in receiving the vaccine, and at last count we had about 130 interested out of 237 total employees. Most officers and civilians lined up right away to say they’d get it, but some didn’t. The two I talked to personally are both young women who want to have children someday and are concerned about whether it could affect their fertility or their future children. But most of the old guys like me lined up right away and were ready to go.

And we tried to make sure our sworn and civilian employees were vaccinated at the same time, because it makes no sense to have sworn vaccinated and working right next to people who haven’t been vaccinated. We got a good response from our civilian employees as well.


Green Bay Commander Paul Ebel

Wexler: What are your concerns about the game itself?

Commander Ebel: The stadium has a capacity of 81,000, and 9,000 tickets have been sold. They’re all in the bowl itself, not the bleachers, and the Packers have put in stadium seats for the family pod tickets they’re selling. They follow NFL protocols and best practices for having fans in the stadium. That means that if you buy a package of four tickets, they put four stadium seats where your seats will be and make sure you’re distanced away from other family pods.

Wexler: How do they handle concessions? Do they allow drinking?

Commander Ebel: There are alcohol sales at the concession stands, and they can have vendors selling alcohol in the stands if they choose to. There are food sales, and each item is individually packaged.

Wexler: Do you have any concerns about managing the crowds as they leave the games?

Commander Ebel: At the divisional game we had about 8,500 people in attendance and about 40 officers assigned to that game. We had some issues with fans breaching the first eight rows, which is a “no-go” zone. For the NFC Championship Game, we’re adding 40 more officers, for a total of about 80 officers for 9,000 people. That’s close to a regular season game for us.

One reason we’re doing that is for mask enforcement. The Packers and the NFL have a mandate that you will wear a mask unless you’re eating or drinking. And we’re also doing that to keep people away from those first eight rows of the stadium.

Wexler: Do you use FirstNet during these games?

Commander Ebel: All our officers are issued FirstNet smartphones. We have a system called ReadyOp, and all our operational plans and messages run through our FirstNet devices into the ReadyOp platform. We’re able to take the information the officers send and create a dashboard for all the types of contacts the officers have.


Kansas City, MO Chief Richard Smith

I think the biggest challenge is security at the stadium overall. I think that’s where our biggest public safety threat is. Once we have the security plan at the stadium down pat, that addresses our biggest overall threat.

There are some challenges with COVID. Our bars have a reduced capacity, and we’ve seen people pretty much stick to those guidelines. What we fear is that there will be more neighborhood parties or party houses. We’re worried about whether that might have an effect on violent crime, since people won’t be in established places to celebrate. In different environments, weapons may be more available. We’re hoping that’s not the case, but we’ve had a discussion about that.

Wexler: What are the regulations on bars and restaurants in Kansas City?

Chief Smith: They have a social distancing mandate of six feet between parties. Bars and restaurants can open as long as they meet that mandate. You can have a party of up to 10 people, then the next party has to be six feet away, whether that’s at a bar or at a table in a restaurant. Outside the regulations are less restrictive. So we have open establishments, but not at capacity.

Wexler: How many people will be allowed into the stadium?

Chief Smith: It normally holds over 75,000, and we’re looking at about 22,000 for this week’s game, which is the about the same as last week’s playoff game.

Wexler: How will you staff the game?

Chief Smith: Even though the crowd capacity is reduced, security will be fully staffed. We are staffing as we would if the stadium were completely full.

Wexler: What about you? What is your role that day?

Chief Smith: I have been both at the stadium and at headquarters during games. I haven’t made plans for this week yet.

We have a staffing contingency plan for after the game. Because we don’t know what we’ll be facing, we have a large contingency that will be on call and ready to go in case we need them.

Wexler: And you have an incident commander, correct?

Chief Smith: We have a major assigned to off-duty work at Arrowhead. He works in an off-duty capacity and is the liaison to the police department. He works with NFL security staff, Arrowhead Stadium security staff, local and federal law enforcement, and the fusion center. He is the liaison and coordinates all that.

Wexler: Did the events of January 6th in Washington, DC impact your planning at all?

Chief Smith: I think the events over the whole year are taken into consideration when we plan for incidents like this. We don’t say that that incident directly relates to this, but we look at what happens when there’s a crowd mentality or when we want to keep a crowd out of a restricted area. Discussions about what’s happening in other parts of the country come up all the time.

Wexler: On another note, has KCPD started vaccinating its officers?

Chief Smith: We’ve started, and I had my first shot December 27. Not all employees at some of the health care providers here took advantage of their initial opportunity to get the vaccine, so they offered it to first responders. We were able to get in on some of those vaccines.

We’re putting out a survey to our employees the first five days of every month asking how many people have had the vaccine, how many are looking to get the vaccine, and how many people are opposed to the vaccine. When we started this at the end of December, only a handful of us had had the vaccine. 48% of the department said they were agreeable to getting the vaccine. Everyone else was undecided or a flat-out “no.” We are working hard to educate our employees to try to get those numbers up.

Wexler: Do you hear anything about why some people are opposed?

Chief Smith: Some people say, “I’ve already had it. I don’t need to get the vaccine.” Some people are worried that the vaccine was rushed and not completely vetted. Some people are just against vaccines in general, and they and their families don’t get them. We have a wide range of views.

Wexler: Is there anything else I should be asking you?

Chief Smith: I guess you should ask how much the Chiefs are going to win by. I’m looking forward to another call before the Super Bowl.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.