Bomb squad works in public, private to keep Tiger Stadium safe for fans

Photo provided by staff

POSTED: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 10:05pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 11:27pm

More than 100,000 people enjoy game days at LSU, thanks to the work of a few hundred.

On a football Saturday, there are as many as 400 officers from nearly every local law enforcement agency around Tiger Stadium, on the streets, and patrolling the tailgate parties.

The way many of them work changed because of a Monday afternoon last spring, when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

"We try to be more proactive, more visible," Chet Chambless said, "so we can deter a possible threat, if need be."

But they keep a crucial part of their job hidden: the night before a game, a joint bomb squad sweeps the building.

"It's a long, extended search," said Chambless, who is an SRT officer and K-9 handler for the LSU Police Department. "It's a large stadium, as you can expect. We do search every nook and cranny."

The squad holds a briefing every Friday evening to talk about any threats or changes to their procedures. The briefings are an extension of meetings local law enforcement agencies have year-round.

"Obviously, on a weekly basis, you can change a few, smaller things," noted Cpt. Cory Lalonde, an LSUPD spokesman. "But if there's anything major that needs to be changed, those are usually changed during the off-season."

Chambless has worked with a German Shepherd named Sendy for more than four years. They train a few times at various stadiums, hospitals, parking lots, and other public places. For a visitor, she performed a drill with a pair of cars. She searched them for any explosive chemicals, quickly sniffing areas pointed out by Chambless. When she found something, she sat still.

"You don't want a dog scratching the vehicle," Chambless explained. "You don't know what type of explosive it is and you don't want to take that chance."

When Chambless' team is comfortable the stadium is safe, they lock it up and give control to overnight security guards. Until the gates open the following day, nobody gets in without an approved credential.

While much of the work remains secretive, fans notice the effort to protect them.

"There's never an issue of security," said Chad Vignes. "I never feel like I'm at risk for anything. Security's good. There's a lot of family... it's just good people that come out here and tailgate. So I never feel like my safety's in danger or anything like that."

One of the most common issues reported to police officers on game day is suspicious packages. Officers take each report seriously because of the large number of fans on campus.

"If something gets called in, we know if there's a good chance that it's false, we don't want to waste our time," Chambless said. "If something does, real, come in, then we don't have to start dealing with abandoned ice chests and bags."

At the same time, officers would rather get too many phone calls than one too few.

"As we tell everyone with the 'See something, say something' campaign, we would much rather have 10 instances where we get information about something and it ends up being nothing, rather than miss that one incident that could've prevented something from happening," Lalonde stated.

But police officers say many fans feel too safe and fail to pay attention to the big crowds around them.

"I'd like to think so," Chambless said, "but when you start involving a large amount of alcohol, that kinda goes out the window."

"It is a heightened sense on our responsibility of what we have to do on those days," Lalonde agreed.

That responsibility means the bomb technicians do not get to enjoy the game. After a long night on Friday, they will spend as many as 16 hours on patrol on Saturday. Only after the last fans go home is their work finished.

"Our main goal is to ensure that the stadium is safe for everyone on game day," Chambless stated, "and that's what we do."

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