Police track tailgaters undercover at Ray Jay

For many football fans, tailgating can be just as important as the game itself.

It’s a way to relax and hang out with friends before the game begins, and in addition to hot dogs and hamburgers, it often involves alcohol.

Aside from the tailgaters, nobody is more aware of this than law enforcement officials.

Katie Hughes, Tampa Police Department’s public information officer, said a number of complaints have led the department to be on heightened alert for underage drinkers during USF football games. She said security issues related to underage drinking have prompted officers to stop anyone they think might be underage.

“If they suspect they’re underage, then they’ll ask for identification,” Hughes said.

According to Hughes, plain-clothed officers roam around the parking lot at Raymond James Stadium before and after games, searching for possible underage drinkers.

Hughes said the “result was a number of arrests” and the confiscation of kegs at Saturday’s game, which featured USF vs. the University of Southern Mississippi.

However, Hughes stressed that while complaints have caused officers to be on the lookout for underage drinking, these types of operations are nothing new. She said Ybor City and other parts of Tampa known to be havens for underage drinking are also being patrolled.

“We have been enforcing (laws against) underage drinking all over the county,” Hughes said.

In addition, Hughes noted that “extra duty” officers — officers hired out by Raymond James Stadium to police events — are present at all USF football games.

“We provide ongoing security for all the games,” Hughes said.

Barbara Casey, director for communications for the Tampa Sports Authority, agreed, saying when you have an event, you decide where your weaknesses are and then base the number of police needed to maintain a safe environment on that assessment.

Casey said there were 30 officers in the parking lot providing a variety of services, including directing traffic, checking tickets and guarding entrances. Casey added that Hillsborough County Sheriff’s officers and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were also providing undercover services during the game.

But Casey said ATF agents are authorized to patrol the parking lot with or without the stadium’s permission.

Alessandra Meetze, spokeswoman for the Florida Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said because football games are a public event, police are legally permitted to check IDs.

“There’s really no expectation of privacy at a football game,” Meetze said.