Well that is one big bull jumping the gate… The 2018 Australian Football League (AFL) season has been marred by what is described as ugly scenes where patrons have become involved in brawls at several fixtures. From punching on in the corporate lounges to breaking through roller doors on the concourse*, the AFL has attracted negative press due to the behaviour of a small group of supporters.
… are we losing sight of some of the more likely to occur risks and not treating these adequately?
Perhaps just as troubling after a more recent brawl**, was the idea that fans should be segregated. It is hard to pinpoint where the idea came from, but what a major departure this course of action would be from what is normally a well behaved aussie crowd. As most will know, patron disputes crop up just about anywhere, and sport is known for its passionate and sometimes over-proportionate fans. However, due to the societal problems of recent times (for example, the emerging terror threat), are we losing sight of some of the more likely to occur risks and not treating these adequately?
What is interesting in reading these articles is for the most part, the focus is on the Footy Clubs, Stadiums and Police. As more of these incidents unfolded, Security became mentioned as well. What was also worth noting is that the collaborative approach between clubs, stadiums and police was not quite the same when security was mentioned. In fact, a comment made about the amount of money spent on security verses these issues happening was surprising. The general consensus is that Security Officers will be ever present and deployed at the first thrown punch, wrapping up the incident in quick fashion. Anyone who has managed stadium security would know this kind of deployment is not always the case.
Looking at the second** incident for example, the brawl occurred at the end of the match. Generally security forces have been redeployed for patron egress. This means opening up additional exits, which requires Security to ensure no one tries to re-enter so the venue can be cleared. It also means a shift in focus for policing resources – crowd safety and traffic management. It is during these times that a lot of fan behaviour changes. Crowds come together, people in a rush to get back to the car or bus to beat the crowds. Alcohol has been absorbed and the effects are now being seen more overtly.
I believe it was a dangerous comment to refer to the money being spent on Security Officers, when they are only one piece of the puzzle. It is easy to go to the extreme and discuss segregating fan zones. The fact is that is not part of the aussie spirit, and there are a lot of things that can be done prior to this.
Timing is everything
The general basis for event security is a gradual flex up of resources to handle the ingress of patrons arriving for the event. During the event resources are redeployed to cover crowd control, and as the end of the event approaches some positions are finished whilst others are sent elsewhere. These movements obviously lower the amount of available security to respond to incidents.
Another example of this is the policing strategy, where cops are deployed to mange traffic and pedestrian flow to the venue, followed up by roving resources inside a stadium, before back to the outskirts. This leaves a lower presence inside.
Terrorism is not the only threat
Over the past few years the threat of terrorism has increased and so has the mitigation strategies. However, at times it seems that the terror threat is greater than some of the normal risks identified with large crowds. It becomes a hazard when too much focus is placed on terror, when in reality; there is a higher risk of crowd related issues. We cannot discount terror, and there must be plans in place. However, there must also be a balance to look after the crowd inside from the usual issues. Alcohol, drugs, anti-social behaviour, flares, emergency scenarios, medicals, etc.
What can be done?
There are a few strategies that can be used to help combat this rising issue. I am not laying any blame to stadiums, security, police or anyone else, other than those fans who decide to get involved in these situations. Personal responsibility is king. But what can be done to help manage the issue?
1. Talk tough, walk tough. We see in the example articles Police and Stadiums talking about ‘banning’ people if convicted in a court. Whereas, most stadiums reflect the private property model – so far as possible that they can control who can and cannot enter. Whilst there will be some differences across states, each area needs to identify its ability to restrict entry.
This goes for the Football clubs themselves. Memberships are important but not at the expense of the clubs reputation. Make decent behaviours apart of membership conditions and enforce this clause where possible.
2. Resources need to be deployed to cover all aspects of the crowd. Having experience in stadium security, we often see a flex UP in the number of security and police during the ingress and event component, and then a DECREASE as the event comes to an end and at its conclusion. What needs to be looked at is the actual number of free and roving personnel available to respond to incidents safely.
For example, if extra gates are open for egress and requires security to be on post, who is left inside? Security do arrive in most of these occasions and break it up, but the response time is slow as they need to find and deploy resources from elsewhere.
3. There has been a change in policing model where stadiums are being charged for the cost of deploying Police. The fact is costs are up for everyone, and the Police cannot fund everything themselves. In saying that, this may explain the focus on ‘outside’ issues – this is the area Police have their authority in. Inside the stadium, they draw on various different areas but often focus on ‘Police’ related issues and anti-social behaviour, rather than enforcing conditions of entry. This can often leave Security to deal with those minor issues. By the end of the game, Security are backing themselves as police head off to deal with the external areas, and this may be an oversight in managing risk.
4. Response is the key to dealing with these issues. Many venues do not have a dedicated Security Response Team. Being able to deploy a number of officers quickly into an incident can be key to staying on top of it. There is also a number of ways to make this resource cost effective.
It is a good debate that has come from these incidents, and more and more people need to be aware of unacceptable behaviour. These incidents are forcing the conversation between Stadiums, Clubs, Police, Security and Public and that is a good thing.
There are a lot of steps that can be taken before segregation. It may take some realigning on the threats. We can’t discount what is happening in the world today, but we need a pinch of ‘reality’ when it comes to deploying resources. That is the ‘likelihood’ part of a risk assessment.
It’s awesome to have a rapid action patrol on standby, heavily armed, or to have a ring of metal and several patron search points, but if all the resources are there, who responds to keep those people safe inside from the usual threats we have always had to face?