The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs play in Super Bowl LV in Tampa on Sunday. PERF Executive Director spoke with NFL Senior Vice President Cathy Lanier, who served as the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Chief from 2007-2016, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, and Kansas City, MO Police Chief Rick Smith about their preparations for the game.


Cathy Lanier, Senior Vice President for Security, National Football League

Chuck Wexler: What were some of the challenges you faced in holding this season?

Cathy Lanier: Once the decision was made to play, we had to have a “We’re going to make it, we’re going to do it” attitude. We were in constant contact with the CDC. We had a medical advisory board. We got feedback from the medical community on everything we did. Every time we learned something new, we would revise our plan. Constantly revising the plan allowed us to keep moving forward. If we had just given up when we started seeing players testing positive, we wouldn’t have made it.

Wexler: Has this been the most complicated Super Bowl to prepare for?

Lanier: I’ve dealt with a lot of really complicated things over my career in policing, but I’ve learned so much in this past year. Our old slogan – “adapt, adjust, and overcome” – has a whole new meaning to me now. Yes, it’s complicated, but I feel like we’ve come out of this having learned a lot, and I think we’ll be better prepared in the future.

Wexler: What are the challenges COVID creates during the Super Bowl?

Lanier: What people don’t realize is that we’ve hosted 1.1 million fans in 19 different stadiums throughout the season. We’ve learned from every single game. We’ve followed up with the local departments of health to make sure there were no cases contact-traced back to our events.

This will be the highest number of fans we’ve had in one stadium all year. We’ll be at about 25,000. Our highest attendance up until now has been about 17,000. So this is our biggest group so far.

The fan attendance brings its own challenges, because we need to have all the COVID protocols in place. But it actually makes it a little easier for us to implement our normal security procedures, with fewer people coming in. We’ve brought in a lot of innovative technologies, because COVID has forced a lot of technologies into the forefront. Things like contactless and biometric technologies allow us to have much less “friction” when people come in, and they expedite some of the processing.

Wexler: Did the events of January 6 change the way you prepare for the terrorism threat?

Lanier: I tell people that I’ve been out of policing for four years, and I haven’t been spending my days wishing I could go back, but on January 6th I wished I could have been there. It’s not that I thought anything would have been different had I been there, but I felt like I should be with my family, and that was my family I was watching.

I talked to all my DC friends, from the chief on down to the officers involved in the incident, and it does change the dynamics of terrorism. We’ve been watching homegrown violent extremism grow as our largest threat over the last 7 or 8 years. Now it really is in the forefront. People have to pay attention, and we are paying attention.

Wexler: And this is a National Special Security Event, correct?

Lanier:  Yes, it’s a SEAR 1 event, which is the highest rating for a National Special Security Event (NSSE). That’s the same level as the presidential inauguration.

Wexler: Are your preparations any different because, for the first time, the team hosting the Super Bowl is playing in the game?

Lanier: You might think it would make it easier, but it makes it more of a challenge. For equity purposes, both teams are treated as visiting teams for the Super Bowl, even though it is in one team’s home stadium. Both teams have to be treated exactly the same, arrive at the hotels on the same days, and get exactly the same treatment as they would at any Super Bowl.

We’re now just days away from the game and things have been going very smoothly. Our law enforcement partners, especially the local law enforcement on the ground, have been so accommodating and done so much to facilitate this event. Watching the number of public servants who are exposed to COVID and contracting COVID, I worry about those partners holding together and trying to get through this while doing so much for us. I appreciate the public service of those who are out there on the front lines every day, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Wexler: What is your role on the day of the Super Bowl?

Lanier: For the vast majority of the day, I’ll be in NFL Control, which is where we make all the decisions about gates, crowds, timing, broadcasting, and transportation. All the decisions about getting things into, out of, and around the Super Bowl are made there. We’re in the stadium looking down on the playing field in a room full of cameras, maps, and police, fire, and transportation folks. Starting about 6 a.m. I’ll be out hitting a couple of the venues, doing some walk-arounds, and making sure everything is buttoned up before I head up to Control.


Tampa Chief Brian Dugan

Wexler: How are you feeling after recently contracting COVID?

Chief Dugan: I’m still struggling. I was out 17 days, and this is my third day back in the office. I’m still battling some congestion and fatigue, but overall I’m doing pretty well. It’s hard to believe that it’s been three weeks and I’m still struggling with it.

Wexler: I’m sorry you’ve had a difficult illness, but I’m glad to hear you’re getting better. Has it been exciting to plan for a Super Bowl that your home team will be playing in?

Chief Dugan: It is exciting. As chiefs, we also tend to look at the downside, because we have to prepare for the worst things that could possibly happen. When you look at the political atmosphere and what’s going on across the world, this might be one of the most challenging Super Bowls ever. I’ve been here 31 years, and we’ve hosted several of them before. But now that our team is in it, it poses a whole other group of challenges.

I’m not worried so much about the game itself, because the NFL does a very good job of securing the building, and this isn’t their first rodeo. I’m worried about whether there will be protests before the game. Or whether there will be local fans outside the stadium who can’t get in but want to be part of the atmosphere. And if they go somewhere to watch the game and come back if the Bucs win, where will they celebrate? There are so many different events that happen at a Super Bowl. The game itself is not the concern, it’s all the other things happening in connection to it.

Also, the game is an international stage, so it could be an opportunity for someone looking for their 15 minutes of fame. Look at how much talk there was about the halftime show “wardrobe malfunction” we had years ago.

Wexler: Is the challenge different with your hometown team playing in the game?

Chief Dugan: I think it is. It’s great for the community, but from a police standpoint, we’re going to have everybody working. Every detective, everybody’s going to be in uniform come Thursday and reassigned. It’s great for the community, but it’s a challenge. I’m trying to make sure I have enough police officers on Sunday night if they win.

Wexler: What mutual aid do you have in place?

Chief Dugan: We’ll have 70 different agencies as part of this. As Cathy said, it’s a Tier 1 Special Event for DHS, and every local agency in the area is here. Even Orlando PD comes and helps us, and they’re an hour and 15 minutes away. We’ll have people from out of state, including EOD and canine units. It’s a large lift, and the heavy lifting always falls on local law enforcement. Nobody does these events alone; you rely on your federal partners for national intel and things like that. But the heavy lifting falls on local law enforcement.

Wexler: Are bars open in Tampa? Does that create any issues for you?

Chief Dugan: The city is worried about this becoming a super-spreader event. We’ve enacted mask ordinances that say if you’re outside in an entertainment district or at a Super Bowl-related event, you have to wear a mask, even outdoors. A lot of the enforcement falls on the local police department. Nobody wants to be the mask police, but that’s what we tend to end up being. So we have that challenge.

Wexler: Do you have an area where people can celebrate outside the stadium?

Chief Dugan: No, but we have three or four different entertainment spots that get heavily loaded with people. I think any college kid in the state of Florida who lives in Tampa is coming home this weekend with their friends, because they want to be in Tampa if the Bucs win.

There’s not much around the stadium itself. We’ll see what “watch parties” happen. We have to worry about all the non-sanctioned events that are not put on by the NFL. Normally there are a bunch of them, but with COVID you’re not getting as many. The governor of Florida has opened up a lot of things, so bars and restaurants are open. There are some restrictions, like patrons have to have a mask or be seated, but they’re pretty much open for business. And those restrictions rely on code enforcement and local law enforcement to be enforced.

I was out a lot this weekend, and pretty much everyone was cooperating with the masks. It’s when they get into the bars and nightclubs late at night where we seem to struggle with everyone remembering to put their masks back on.

Wexler: How is Tampa doing with COVID infections?

Chief Dugan: We’re doing better now.  We were one of the highest in the state. Back when we had the riots in June and July, about 10% of our workforce was out, which is about 110 cops. That was pretty hard for us. It’s definitely getting better.


Kansas City, MO Chief Rick Smith

Wexler: Were there any issues after the AFC Championship Game?

Chief Smith: We had some street racing issues – exhibitions, going into the street, that sort of thing. But that was about it.

Wexler: Were there any issues with the celebrations?

Chief Smith: On the way into work that night, I hit all the entertainment districts, and I didn’t see anything. I came down to headquarters and spent most of the game here. I went back out afterwards and still didn’t see many crowds. We did not see establishments or venues with a lot of people inside. Everyone seemed to be adhering to the reduced-capacity restrictions.

Wexler: What are your concerns when the game isn’t being played in your city?

Chief Smith: We have the departure and arrival of the team at the airport, which we plan for. We also are taking a look at possibilities for that night.  Even though the AFC Championship went well, we are still planning a contingency to be ready to go into the city. I think we’ll take the same approach we did to the AFC Championship, which is to have full staffing and some extras working, with a contingency on call who could come in, depending on how things go that night.

It’s supposed to be cold here on Sunday, with a high of about 20 degrees, so I think the weather will also play a role in this.

Wexler: Will you two be making a friendly wager on the game?

Chief Dugan: No doubt. Our PIOs are connecting to set that up.

Chief Smith: Yes, we’re working on that. Brian, I’d recommend that a good leader work on the morale of their department, so you shouldn’t call all those extra people in in case you win. I’d let them stay home and enjoy the game, because the Chiefs are going to win anyway.

Chief Dugan: Mahomes’s helmet might come up missing. We’d never break the law and steal it, but it might get misplaced.

Wexler: Thank you, and good luck to both of you. But a little more luck to Brian, because his team has Brady and Gronk.


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.