Sandra Barfield is used to fielding some mundane calls in between handling true emergencies. “You get to know the ones who always call,” the UNLV Police Services dispatch manager said. “Policing is a family, whether you’re a small agency or large.”
But the Presidential Debate at UNLV brought on its own brand of head-scratchers. The calls began well before the Presidential Debate, Barfield said. Chief among them: “People were asking us for tickets to the debate.” That’s something not even UNLV’s president could grant.
On debate day itself, the calls focused on the crowds of community members turning out to promote their favored candidates in front of the news cameras. “(Most) calls were received about inappropriate signs in the crowds behind CNN and MSNBC while they were broadcasting,” Barfield said. “Some lady called several times wanting someone thrown in jail over it. After the debate, we received several calls about not being able to hear the commentators over the crowd and they wanted us to take care of it.”
But since UNLV is a public campus, the crowds, though sometimes noisy, were within their rights to assemble. “Our dispatchers took approximately eight calls from various states, such as California, Michigan, and New York,” noted Gina Schneider, assistant dispatch manager. “Not all of the noise came from election protesters. Some of it was the fans of (CNN’s) Anderson Cooper.”
To prepare for the debate, police Lt. Jeff Green traveled to both Hofstra University in New York and Washington University in St. Louis to meet with local law enforcement. William Newman, Police Services' special events security supervising lieutenant accompanied Green to Hofstra, while UNLV Police Chief José Elique went with Green to St. Louis.
All told, they traveled more than 16,800 miles between the three of them to prepare. Between red-eye flights, nights forgoing sleep, and meetings with university debate committees, their motivation was clear: “This is where we elect the next leader of our free world,” said Lt. Green. “It helped me stay on task — a desire to keep our community safe.”
But with a small force, perhaps the biggest task was partnering with all the different law enforcement agencies needed to assist with securing the event.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department provided mobile command center training to UNLV police dispatchers. Annual training for officers also coincided this year with de-escalation technique training they received before the debate. “We prefer de-escalation before we do anything physical,” Green said. “We want to talk to them and relate to them on a human level.”
Multiple emergency operations center locations were set up across campus and secured with UNLV police and Las Vegas Metro police officers, as well as personnel from other law enforcement agencies, including the Secret Service, the FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the police departments for Henderson, the College of Southern Nevada, and Clark County School District as well as the county's fire and emergency medical responders..
The debate afforded the university a chance to significantly upgrade building security cameras. The department added 25 new cameras at the Thomas & Mack Center, the Campus Services Building, and other key locations and migrated several independent video surveillance systems with more than 125 cameras into one unified system — Milestone Systems.
Police Services now can access vital analytics, such as people-counting in the event of building evacuations. The system allows for recordings when alarms are triggered, and provides real-time coverage of emergency phones on campus.
With such a high-stakes event on the line, however, the biggest problem of the night for police personnel was pretty mundane.
“I was in the security room with the Secret Service. They dealt mostly with protection of the delegates and their families, of course, but also fielded calls from all the checkpoints around the venue,” Barfield said. “The main issue when I first got there was for me to get in touch with maintenance because with their suits on, it was way too hot in the room!”