Protecting people and the piglet – heavy security for Golden 1 arena

Training session gives emergency responders closer look inside Golden 1 Center

Getting to know Sacramento's new downtown arena and the soon-to-be-bustling area it anchors was a goal of first-response training for emergency personnel on Sept. 6, 2016. Firefighters, cops and canine officers, and hazmat units got inside, intima
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Getting to know Sacramento's new downtown arena and the soon-to-be-bustling area it anchors was a goal of first-response training for emergency personnel on Sept. 6, 2016. Firefighters, cops and canine officers, and hazmat units got inside, intima

Golden 1 Center is expected to be a long-term change maker in Sacramento, bringing development, commerce, crowds and excitement to the central city. It will also turn downtown into the most heavily policed spot in the region.

When the facility opens next month for a pair of Paul McCartney concerts, as many as 100 public and private uniformed employees will be on duty, either at the Fifth and K streets venue or on surrounding blocks, patrolling the streets, monitoring intersections, overseeing light-rail stations and keeping watch in garages. Inside the arena, Kings security, city police and traffic officials will sit side by side in a command center, monitoring interior and exterior live camera feeds.

Much of the security will be handled by city police officers. They’ll be bolstered by public transit officers on light-rail trains, private security guards, business association visitor guides on sidewalks, and public and private garage employees. Police executives, City Hall administrators and RT officials will be on the streets as well – during the first few events – to oversee the action when 17,500 people converge at what had been a relatively quiet corner of downtown in recent years.

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It all may be overkill. Officials say they want to be on the safe side in the first few weeks while they gain experience and determine how much security and crowd management is needed at various events over time.

“As we go, we’ll figure out the right level,” Deputy Police Chief Ken Bernard said. “We’ll see what patterns are and we’ll adjust …It is a big deal for the city, and we need to get it right.”

One prize item that will receive extra protection is the $8 million sculpture by New York City artist Jeff Koons. The 18-foot-tall statue, based on a child’s coloring of Winnie the Pooh’s friend Piglet, sits like a graffiti magnet in the center of the arena plaza. Cameras, though, will bracket the plaza, some of them trained on the sculpture, and security guards will patrol the plaza and arena area at all hours.

Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission executive Shelly Willis said the sculpture is being treated with a protective wax coating, which will make it easier to remove paint if the statue is tagged.

“Everybody has asked that question,” Willis said of the potential for vandalism. “We do need to be careful. But it’s an active site, which is always better for the protection of an artwork. This will be surrounded by retail, the hotel, and restaurants, so there are a lot of eyes on the piece.”

City and Kings officials have not released a price tag for all the security planned in and around Golden 1 Center. The Sacramento Kings will pick up a bulk of the tab, though. As part of the arena deal the city and Kings signed two years ago, the Kings must pay for a basic level of police officers to work on game nights, with a focus on traffic and crowd control.

At least 12 of them will be stationed at key intersections to monitor traffic around the arena before events, and an estimated 15 after events, based on the city’s published traffic management plan. The Kings say they will pay for officers to patrol inside the arena as well, but declined to say how many.

City police say they will ramp up their presence in downtown beyond what the Kings pay for. That includes deploying officers on horseback, which are good for crowd control, and bike patrol officers, who can get to tight spots in urban environments, such as inside garages or down alleys, faster than patrol cars can. It also means having extra officers on duty in the hours after an arena event ends, when some fans will hit local bars and clubs.

Downtown safety has been a topic since the city and Kings decided three years ago to build a new arena in the urban core, replacing Sleep Train Arena in Natomas. Some Kings fans who are unfamiliar with downtown have expressed concerns about walking the streets at night.

City data show that crimes occur more frequently in downtown than in most neighborhoods. Reported crimes in the arena area occur, on average, once a day, and at all hours, with an uptick on weekend nights. Police say that is because the downtown is frequented by more people day and night, and has more late-night venues than other neighborhoods.

The most frequent crimes are drug related and typically involve arrests for possession of marijuana or methamphetamine, police said. Other crimes, in order of occurrence this year, are thefts, break-ins and vandalism, followed by robberies and assaults.

“It is, relatively speaking, a safe place to be,” said Sacramento Police Capt. Justin Ekland, who oversees downtown operations for the Police Department. “It is really people’s perception. Police presence is going to be critical. People need to feel safe.”

City Councilman Steve Hansen, a downtown resident, said the city is taking the approach that it doesn’t “get a second chance to make a first impression. The tolerance for bad behavior is going to be very minimal.”

The city is installing 20 security cameras downtown – 10 at intersections near the arena and 10 on city garages. The cost is several thousand dollars per device. The cameras, called Police Observation Devices or PODs, will have the word “police” stamped on the box and a large blinking blue light.

“We want a potential bad guy to see them,” Ekland said. “It’s a great visible deterrent.”

Police will monitor those camera feeds as well as feeds from light-rail stations at a new “real time crime center” on Richards Boulevard. Inside the arena, the Kings have set up a second “command center,” where team and city officials also will monitor arena and local street cameras.

Kings officials said the security at arena entrances will be similar to the screening in place at Sleep Train Arena, with a noticeable increase in police presence. Fans will pass through metal detectors and have their bags searched. The team will employ bomb sniffing police dogs.

The Downtown Sacramento Partnership, a group of business and property owners, also will deploy extra downtown guides. Dressed in their signature yellow and black uniforms, they will mingle with crowds on the streets, answering questions and offering directions.

Sacramento Regional Transit officials say they will have a transit officer or guard on every train to and from the arena, and guards at most light-rail stations during arena events.

Much of their work will involve controlling crowds as pedestrians mix with cars leaving the facility. Key streets will be closed after events. To improve sidewalk safety, the city has installed 39 of what will eventually total 104 new acorn-shaped streetlights at spots that were deemed dark enough to be foreboding.

Police officials said last weekend’s terrorist bombing in New York City does not alter their security plans downtown. Earlier this month, SWAT, bomb squad and canine teams conducted a training drill at the arena to familiarize themselves with the terrain.

“Every law enforcement agency in the U.S. is always thinking about those things and incorporating prevention in their planning,” Ekland said. “We are well aware of issues that happen. We are always gathering intelligence and preparing accordingly.”

Some homeless people downtown have said they fear the city may use the arena as a reason to push them out, but Ekland said police will focus on people who behave illegally rather than on particular groups. “Any sort of unlawful behavior, we are going to be very vigilant,” Ekland said.

Artist Jeff Koons' much-anticipated work that now graces Sacramento's downtown next to the new Golden 1 Center was unveiled on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, and it was a large bit of whimsy: a sculpture of the character Piglet from Koons' "Coloring Book

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

What not to bring

Items that are prohibited inside of Golden 1 Center:

  • Bottles, cans and food coolers
  • Backpacks and bags larger than 16”x16”x8”
  • Outside food/beverages (baby food permitted)
  • Alcohol, drugs and illegal substances
  • Pamphlets, product samples
  • Signs, flags and banners larger than 11”x17”, or attached to a stick
  • Balloons, permanent markers, spray paint
  • Skateboards, rollerblades, bicycles, helmets, chairs
  • Laptop computers, recording devices and two-way radios
  • Laser pointers
  • Weapons, pepper spray/mace, flares, fireworks and dangerous devices of any kind
  • Frisbees and beach balls
  • Noise-making devices (cowbells OK for Kings games)
  • Other items deemed unacceptable by arena management