Commentary

'Heightened security measures'

Vice president of AT&T Park operations says security force will be larger vs. L.A.

Updated: April 9, 2011, 11:32 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Throughout the past week we've searched for answers while San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow, the victim of a brutal beating at Dodger Stadium, clings to his life.

Politicians, fans and media members from Los Angeles to San Francisco have denounced the attack, while fumbling for quick solutions to keep it from happening again.

Yesterday, the Dodgers announced they had hired former Los Angeles police chief William Bratton as a security consultant.

March 31 wasn't just the night Bryan Stow's life was shattered.

It has become the night we all realized it could happen to anyone.

Stow, the 42-year-old paramedic from Santa Cruz, is not the first fan to be beaten at a local sporting event.

In December, two men were stabbed before a USC-UCLA football game in Pasadena. In 2009, there was a stabbing in the Dodger Stadium parking lot after a game against the Giants, and a shooting at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.

But Stow's case seems to have resonated more deeply than those incidents. Perhaps it is simply a tipping point. Perhaps it is the sheer senselessness of the tragedy.

Detectives in the case have said that Stow was walking away from his assailants before they struck him from behind, knocked him to the ground and repeatedly kicked him, causing head injuries so severe he's been placed in a medically induced coma at County USC Medical Center, and has had the left side of his skull removed in order to control the swelling in his brain.

The incident has catapulted fan violence to the forefront of the political and cultural agenda in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, where the Dodgers and Giants will renew their rivalry in a three-game series beginning Monday.

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Jorge Costa has had the dates of that series circled on his calendar for months. Any time the Dodgers come to AT&T Park, the San Francisco Giants' senior vice president of stadium operations is on high alert.

After the incident at Dodger Stadium, the stakes for Costa, San Francisco law enforcement, the Giants, the Dodgers, and Major League Baseball could not be higher. Message boards have been filled with talk of retaliation towards Dodgers fans. The comments section on online articles published about Stow's beating contain disturbing, racially charged, and sometimes violent language.

Civic leaders and Stow's family members have called on fans to honor him by demonstrating sportsmanship and civility, but Costa says he cannot rely on sentiment and goodwill.

He must deal in absolutes. As in, absolutely no violence will be tolerated.

"All of us that do this job live on pins and needles every time we open the gates and every time we close the gates," Costa said. "You just live like that, game to game, event to event because you have so many things to think about and process. It's not something you ever take lightly.

"There shouldn't be any reason why a fan can't wear the opposing team's jersey in the ballpark and have to worry about retaliation. But the reality is that it does happen because some people don't value sportsmanship, they don't value civility to the extent that they should."

The Giants will employ what Costa called "heightened security measures" for next week's series against the Dodgers. The size of that force will be 15-25 percent larger than that for a typical home game, he said.

But even with heightened security measures, there is no perfect plan.

"You could have a cop for every fan in every stadium in this country and it wouldn't necessarily prevent what's happening from happening," he said. "It's just an unfortunate part of reality and it's very difficult."

Dodgers officials declined to comment on their security policies and procedures for this story. According to The Los Angeles Times, for the first time since 2005, the Dodgers opened the season without a full-time security chief, after dismissing former Secret Service agent Ray Maytorena last December. Bratton is being brought in to do a "top-to-bottom review" of the team's security practices, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said in a statement Wednesday.

The team currently shows the Fan Code of Conduct before every game and displays a static message on its video board publicizing an anonymous hotline which fans can text or call in to security with reports of bad behavior in the park during games.

They've banned tailgating, cut off alcohol sales at the end of the seventh inning, increased the visibility of law enforcement at games and worked with the Los Angeles Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies to update all of their policies as needed.

Still, as McCourt said in addressing the media Saturday, "one [incident] is too many."

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Costa said the "broken windows" theory is at the core of his approach to security at AT&T Park.

The theory, introduced by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in the 1980s, suggests that keeping urban environments looking good -- literally fixing broken windows and cleaning surfaces of graffiti, etc. -- signals an expectation of civility that helps prevent petty vandalism from escalating into more serious criminal acts.

"The condition, the quality, the perception of the venue, the presentation, all play a role in setting the expectation for the venue," Costa said.

Costa said things have improved since the team moved from Candlestick Park to what's now called AT&T Park in 2000.

"No disrespect to Candlestick Park, but being in this venue is very different," he said. "The impression, the standard, the amenities, the location, no disrespect to the previous venue, but this is just a better venue."

In the early 1990s, during one of the Giants' most successful runs, Candlestick had become somewhat of a rowdy, rough place to watch a game.

"One year in the early '90s we averaged 31 ejections a game. That's a lot," he said. "We had to really get in there and clean it up. Now, knock on wood, it's not anywhere near that on average."

While Dodger Stadium remains one of the most picturesque stadiums in baseball, it is also one of the oldest in the league. The Dodgers played their first game in Chavez Ravine in 1962, two years after the Giants opened Candlestick Park.

It has been renovated in recent years, but a large-scale modernization project put forth by the McCourts in 2008 has been tabled indefinitely.

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Beyond questions of environment, Costa said that a successful security plan must create a connection between fans and security personnel.

Both the Giants and Dodgers have made it a priority for fans to easily and anonymously report unruly, unsportsmanlike behavior to security officials via text message or a call to a hotline.

"We look at the ballpark as basically a small community and I think the residents play a role in what's tolerable," Costa said. "They, by and large, determine what the existing environment is going to be like.

"We have our programs, like the text-to-security program, our [alcohol management] training for guest services staff, and our video surveillance program. That's what we can do, but we need the support of the fans."

"If you're a witness to a violent event, it's always best to call 911," said officer Rosario Herrera of the LAPD. "It can be dangerous if they try to break it up themselves, but that's a judgment call they have to make."

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In 2008, 18-year-old Anthony Giraudo died after he was punched in the head during an argument after a Giants game at AT&T Park. Then-18-year-old Taylor Buckley was arrested and charged with murder. In February of this year, Buckley pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to a year in jail and five years probation.

Just a few months after Giraudo's death, 26-year-old Rafael Cuevas was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison for the 2004 stabbing death of Giants fan Tim Griffith, who was leaving AT&T Park after attending the game in which Barry Bonds hit his 700th home run.

While the attention this week has focused on the Dodgers and Bryan Stow, it is not an isolated incident. It is simply the latest tragedy in a wider and ongoing problem.

In the hopes of addressing that problem, both the Dodgers and Giants have raised the visibility of law enforcement officials inside the stadium and around the perimeter to serve as a "visual deterrent" to fan violence.

Above and beyond what fans can do to report acts of violence, Costa said this is a critical component of any successful approach.

"Bodies on the ground are very good visual deterrents," he explained. "A guy on a motorcycle in a jumpsuit. The officer in the car, on bicycles, horses, police helicopters, security cameras, I think are all visual deterrents that send a very strong message.

"But even with all those messages, there's a small percentage of fans who have zero interest in the outcome of the game and more interest in their own issues, whatever their issues are. That's the person we have to eliminate."

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

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