Funds for metal detectors at War Memorial Stadium OK'd

By: Jeannie Roberts
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2018
Fans walk into War Memorial Stadium for the Arkansas Razorbacks' spring game Saturday, April 7, 2018, in Little Rock.
Fans walk into War Memorial Stadium for the Arkansas Razorbacks' spring game Saturday, April 7, 2018, in Little Rock.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson authorized more than $60,000 from his discretionary fund to install 18 metal detectors at War Memorial Stadium, Arkansas Parks and Tourism Executive Director Kane Webb said Wednesday.

The security upgrade, which includes a ban on loitering on the concourse and a clear-bag-only policy, comes in response to an Aug. 25 incident during the annual Salt Bowl football rivalry between Bryant and Benton high schools when a fight and the firing of a stun gun sent more than 38,000 people fleeing from the stadium.

"This will speed up the time it takes to enter the stadium while maintaining the highest level of security," Webb said after a meeting of the state Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission.

Webb told the commission members that he's hopeful the metal detectors will be installed before the Razorbacks play the Ole Miss Rebels on Oct. 13.

Parks department spokesman Meg Matthews said the state procurement procedure could slow the timeline.

"Procuring equipment on a government level is not the same ordering something from Amazon," Matthews said. "We have to go through certain levels and meet deadlines. This is a very high priority for us."

Until the machines are installed, the use of security wands will be increased, Matthews said.

"Metal detectors are a faster way to get people through the gates," Matthews said. "It will speed up the process because metal detectors are a more efficient way of conducting this level of security than wanding people."

The expenditure will put the facility, which was moved under the jurisdiction of the Parks and Tourism Department in 2016, ahead of the game, Matthews added.

The Southeastern Conference announced earlier this year that school venues will be required to have metal detectors in place by the fall of 2020.

"This is standard operating procedure," Matthews said. "What we are doing is part of a national trend."

Webb told the commissioners that the details and the cause of the incident remain unclear.

"We're still investigating it," he said.

According to authorities, five people were hospitalized for heat-related conditions and two people were treated for minor leg injuries, one from jumping over a wall and one from falling.

"To be in the middle of that was pretty disturbing," Webb said.

On Wednesday, Webb commended the park's staff for the quick response to the mayhem.

"Looking back at it, I'm so proud of our team," Webb said. "There were no major injuries. Everyone was reunited with their families and everyone got out safe."

In all, the incident lasted about half an hour, Webb said.

Commissioner Eric Jackson said it wasn't just the park rangers who took control of the situation.

"Everyone who represents the Parks and Tourism Department was doing a phenomenal job," Jackson said.

Webb said ticket sales for the Oct. 13 Razorback game at the stadium have been strong. He cautioned stadium patrons to be patient with the metal detectors and the increased security measures.

"Be prepared for that, but please come back," Webb said.

Hutchinson's spokesman could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Metro on 09/20/2018

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