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In the Shadow of the Circus

Is the Super Bowl super-secure? Does human trafficking really spike around the big game? And what in Ed Lee’s name will happen to the homeless?


Ever since Mayor Ed Lee made the eyebrow-raising decree that homeless people “are going to have to leave” the Embarcadero during the Super Bowl, the question of where the city will stash them has hung awkwardly in the air. According to Sam Dodge, director of the mayor’s Housing Opportunity, Partnerships, and Engagement office, security at Super Bowl City means that “people can’t encamp there.” Asked if the city is conducting sweeps, Dodge avoids the word, saying carefully, “The Homeless Outreach team has already placed a number of people out from that area, and we’re going to continue to do that.” His neutral words—“placed out”—are not echoed by Maria Trinidad, a homeless woman who says that she and her husband, Jose, have been pressured by police since fall. “Some were kind of abusive, telling me I need to move right away,” she says. “They keep saying, ‘You got to go.’”

Though every Super Bowl gets security help from the feds, the terrorist attacks in Paris last fall have heightened concerns this year. Santa Clara police lieutenant Kurt Clarke declines to give specifics on security measures at Levi’s Stadium but acknowledges that the usual bag checks and no-weapons policy will be in force. “Security,” he emphasizes, “will be visible. We’ll have federal help, and we’ll have more officers available.” In San Francisco, a robust police presence will be the most noticeable tactic, according to Captain Tim Falvey. “We want to make sure we have a highly visible police presence to deter people from committing crimes of opportunity,” he says.

Human Trafficking
With more than 700 cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center in 2015, California leads the nation in human trafficking (a category that encompasses both sex and labor trafficking). Yet the oft-repeated claim that sex trafficking spikes around the Super Bowl “has no good data supporting it,” says Minouche Kandel, director of women’s policy at the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women. Nevertheless, law enforcement and anti-trafficking groups are using the buzz around the game to amp up their efforts. The week before the Super Bowl, the FBI’s San Francisco office will set up an anti-human-trafficking operations center in Oakland: a hub, says FBI spokesperson Michele Ernst, where roughly 30 local law enforcement agencies will be working with one another and the FBI. Though a one-week push won’t move the needle on the larger problem, a targeted boost in enforcement does yield results, says Ernst: Another operation last fall led to the arrest of eight pimps and the rescue of six underage victims, including a missing 16-year-old girl from Milpitas.


Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco

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