Ensuring Public Safety Tops HSI’s Mission at Super Bowl LV

While the past year has looked nothing like any year in recent history, one thing that won’t be different is the presence of the men and women of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) at the Super Bowl. As it has done in other Super Bowl host cities over the last several years, HSI is working closely with local, state and federal law enforcement partners in the Tampa Bay area to provide essential public safety measures and help address criminal threats that the National Football League and host city may face leading up to and throughout Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7.

As the returning champion Kansas City Chiefs and hometown favorite Tampa Bay Buccaneers gear up for the big game, HSI and its partners are also in the midst of intensive planning and coordination to ensure that the Super Bowl LV is as safe and secure as possible. For HSI Tampa, these preparations started over a year ago, when the office first began working alongside its government partners and the NFL in support of the overall security mission for this significant national security event.

But HSI’s role at the Super Bowl doesn’t stop there. As the principal investigative arm of Department of Homeland Security, HSI personnel will be on the front lines of the interagency effort to mitigate the threat posed by criminal organizations seeking to exploit and profit from criminal activity, such as counterfeiting and human trafficking, conducted in and around the Super Bowl.

“Tampa and the Tampa Bay area is excited to be hosting the Super Bowl, and despite the challenges of the pandemic, HSI Tampa is working hard to make sure this event is safe for everyone.” said HSI Tampa acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin Sibley. “While our office supports intellectual property crime enforcement and counter-human trafficking missions all year, large-scale events like the Super Bowl typically bring specific types of increased criminal activity and HSI has been proactively working with our law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of our communities and our visitors.”

Operation Team Player

A year-round effort developed by the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), its mission is to crack down on the illegal importation and sale of counterfeit sports apparel and entertainment products.

Unfortunately, spikes in counterfeit merchandise – goods that bear a trademark made to look identical to another’s registered trademark and produced on the same type of goods as those registered by the rightful trademark holder – tend to accompany prominent sporting events like the Super Bowl.

Personnel supporting Operation Team Player have worked through the years to identify warehouses, stores, flea markets, online vendors and street vendors selling counterfeit and game-related sportswear and tickets throughout the country. The IPR Center leads coordinated efforts with many of the United States’ major sporting leagues to target contraband that negatively impacts the economy, enables additional criminality and poses health and safety hazards to the public.

Human Trafficking

Also high on HSI Tampa's priority list are efforts to combat human trafficking in the Bay area.

HSI Tampa personnel are working closely with local, state and federal partners to help the greater Tampa Bay area understand and more easily spot the indicators of human trafficking in their communities and help dispel the myths about who can be a victim of this terrible crime.

HSI is committed to ensuring that everyone who has come to Tampa Bay to enjoy the Super Bowl has done so of their own free will, and that those individuals and organizations involved in human trafficking and sexual exploitation networks are held accountable for their crimes.

As in years past, effective teamwork will be the key to success on and off the field during Super Bowl LV. For HSI, the size and scope of the task will again be met with personnel who are prepared to successfully execute the agency’s game plan and safeguard the city and everyone traveling to and from the Super Bowl.

News Release for Super Bowl LV Fact Sheet: HSI at Super Bowl LV

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HSI remains vigilant as the week culminates in Super Bowl LV

As the Buccaneers and Chiefs countdown to kickoff Sunday, the men and women of HSI remain hard at work, focused on ensuring the safety and security of everyone who has come to Tampa for Super Bowl LV itself as well as the festivities surrounding the event.

What makes for a successful Super Bowl? Watch HSI Tampa’s Acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin Sibley to find out.

A Broader Effort & Unique Challenges
What Success Means & Finding the Victims

A Successful Mission

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HSI brings in mobile command centers to keep information fast and flowing

To support federal law enforcement security efforts for an event the magnitude of the Super Bowl, HSI is using two of its five mobile command centers.

“On a typical day we are monitoring various communications through federal, state and local radios, making sure we can communicate effectively between traditional radios, modern applications on your phone or by telephone,” said Tim Westlove, HSI Tampa’s group supervisor of Investigative Services.

HSI’s mobile command centers support operations in national security events where stand-alone voice and data networks are needed. The centers also have high speed internet, satellite, cellular connections and possess the ability to support all radio frequencies used by everyone from law enforcement to amateur radio owners.

The following video shows how HSI’s mobile command centers and a new public safety app connecting law enforcement through their smart phones are keeping fans safe in Tampa.

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HSI rises up to meet the challenges of Super Bowl LV

Since HSI was established 10 years ago, its personnel have been on the front lines of efforts to keep the homeland secure from national security and public safety threats. No matter what the challenge, no matter how substantial the threat, HSI has proven time and time again that it will be there, standing ready to play its part, despite risks to the safety and security of its workforce.

Now, in the midst of a global pandemic and a significant national security event, this approach continues to prevail, as does HSI’s continued support to Super Bowl security operations. HSI has deployed personnel and resources in support of its federal, state, and local partners to ensure that the Super Bowl LV experience is safe for everyone, despite the health risk posed by the coronavirus.

“Obviously, one of the biggest challenges for the 2021 Super Bowl is balancing the security aspects of it with the health and safety aspects presented by the coronavirus,” said HSI Tampa Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Cochran. Everyone is wearing masks and social distancing when possible, Cochran added.

Watch Cochran and Escobar talk about the steps they are taking to combat the challenges of this year’s Super Bowl.

The overall security posture in and around the event is bolstered by HSI’s elite Special Response Teams (SRTs). Highly trained in the use of specialized firearms and defensive tactics, HSI’s SRTs are supporting local mission requests from law enforcement partners and are ready to move out at a moment’s notice to respond to threats and incidents as they arise.

“Our top priority is to make sure everyone is safe at all the venues and at the stadium. We will serve as a quick reactionary force in the unlikely event we are needed,” said Ray Escobar, the tactical commander for HSI’s Special Response Team in Tampa.

A Special Response & Training for the Real Thing

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HSI deploys investigative teams around stadium to keep Super Bowl LV safe

When the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers kickoff on Sunday, HSI Tampa Special Agents will be positioned in and around the Raymond James Stadium and ready to execute their own game plan, ensuring the Super Bowl is as safe and secure as possible.

For over a week, the men and women of HSI Tampa have been working around the clock as part of an interagency team responsible for securing the event. The HSI Tampa National Security Group has played a key role in this effort, collaborating with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force to deploy investigative teams charged with identifying and preventing threats to the stadium, fans and the public at large.

“These teams are primarily responsible for working zones around the city and securing Super Bowl events, such as the NFL experience, different VIP events, and the game itself. Their main mission is counterterrorism and looking for anything out of the ordinary,” said Mike Paquin, group supervisor for the National Security Group at HSI Tampa.

HSI Special Agents will also be involved in counter-drone operations, another measure that’s key to ensuring the event’s overall security. The airspace around the stadium is a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) area, or a “No Drone Zone”.

”Our ground team essentially responds to the area and tries to find the drone and operators. Once the drone operators are identified, they are interviewed to determine if this is just a toy they are playing with or if they have more nefarious reasons for flying the drones,” Paquin said.

Tampa raises awareness of human trafficking in runup to Super Bowl

HSI is committed to ending human trafficking and rescuing those who fall victim to this criminal activity and is using the Super Bowl in Tampa as a forum to conduct public outreach and raise awareness of this heinous crime.

As the leader of HSI’s human trafficking group in Tampa, Jennifer Silliman stressed the importance outreach and education play in combating human trafficking. Over the past few weeks, HSI has worked with law enforcement and public partners to enlist their support in uncovering instances of possible human trafficking in the runup to the big game.

“I think a lot of times there is this misperception that in order to be trafficked you have to be held against your will or forcibly taken and that’s not the case,“ said Silliman, group supervisor for the Human Exploitation Group in HSI Tampa. There are multiple signs of human trafficking, and through HSI’s targeted outreach campaign S.T.O.P. Trafficking, special agents in Tampa and across the United States share those indicators with high-risk sectors of industry, non-governmental organizations, law enforcement partners, and the public at large. These efforts help familiarize the public and potential victims with how to recognize and report human trafficking.

The Tampa area, she says, poses a unique set of challenges with a large international airport where victims of trafficking can be flown in and out of the city. And, with a sporting event the magnitude of the Super Bowl and the expected increase in people visiting the city, it makes it all the more likely for human trafficking offenses to occur.

HSI recently teamed up with the Tampa PD, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, and the FBI to produce a public service announcement that includes what people should look for if they suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking.

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HSI, NFL partner to prevent fake sports-related merchandise from reaching fans ahead of big game

Today, Homeland Security Investigations announced the results of Operation Team Player at a joint press conference with the NFL, the Tampa Police Department and CBP.

The ongoing annual operation begins after every Super Bowl and runs through the next one, targeting international shipments of counterfeit sports merchandise into the United States. This operation is run by the HSI-led IPR Center, in collaboration with CBP, the NFL and other major sports leagues, to prevent the illegal importation and distribution of counterfeit sports merchandise.

“Make no mistake – intellectual property theft is not a victimless crime. You will be arrested,” said Steve Francis, IPR Center director. “Fans who spend their hard-earned money to support the NFL and their favorite team can rest assured that HSI and its partners are working around the clock to ensure they are getting only genuine, high-quality officially licensed merchandise in return.”

Special agents from HSI teamed with industry, CBP, Tampa police officers, and other partner agencies to identify flea markets, retail outlets and street vendors selling counterfeit goods during the week leading up to Super Bowl LV. They seized fake jerseys, hats, cell-phone accessories and thousands of other bogus items prepared to be sold to unsuspecting consumers.

“Operation Team Player is the most successful and long-standing collaborative effort to protect U.S. consumers from the sale of counterfeit sports merchandise and tickets,” said NFL Vice President of Legal Affairs, Dolores DiBella. “The NFL is grateful for the diligent and tireless work of agents and officers from the IPR Center, HSI, CBP, and Tampa area law enforcement who have undertaken anti-counterfeiting measures that protect fans not only at Super Bowl LV, but all season long.”

Operation Team Player Results

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HSI agents target smuggling of counterfeit merchandise into the US ahead of Super Bowl

HSI special agents joined with federal, state, and local partners Feb. 2, 2021, to identify and prevent the smuggling of counterfeit Super Bowl LV related sports apparel and merchandise into the U.S.

Working at a Tampa area international mail facility, HSI – alongside its partners from fellow DHS agency U.S. Customs and Border Protection – teamed up with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Tampa Police Department and the local sheriff’s office to target and inspect packages from overseas in furtherance of Operation Team Player. The effort is designed to thwart criminals seeking to exploit Super Bowl events and profit from counterfeiting and intellectual property theft.

Counterfeiters often prey on consumer desire for low prices. But that cheap price comes at a high cost. Counterfeit goods are often made using cheap, substandard and dangerous components that pose a health and safety risk to consumers.

For example, clothing may contain illegal coloring agents or chemical substances that could cause an allergic or other adverse reaction. Counterfeit electronic products may also pose a safety risk due to explosions, fire or electrical shock.

HSI and its partners are cautioning the public to be on the lookout for the sale of counterfeit products leading up to and during Super Bowl LV. “I would tell consumers if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said an HSI agent at the mail facility.

Super Bowl 55 - Day 1

Through Operation Team Player, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and its partners crack down on the illegal importation and sale of counterfeit sports apparel and merchandise associated with Super Bowl LV.

The HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Coordination Center leads coordinated efforts to target contraband that negatively impacts the economy, restricts the competitiveness of U.S. products in the global market, and poses health and safety hazards to the public.

“Throughout the week, HSI and its partners will be conducting targeted enforcement actions designed to identify and stop criminals selling counterfeit Super Bowl merchandise. Whether in local area flea markets or through e-commerce platforms online, this type of activity won’t be tolerated. HSI stands ready to do its part in preventing the criminal exploitation of this event, and in ensuring items sold in and around Super Bowl LV are legitimate and authentic,” said HSI Supervisory Special Agent Bruce Passmore.