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Games planners may cut number of police at venues

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After a lower-than-anticipated response from out-of-state police, Utah's Olympic public-safety planners could cut back the number of officers working inside venues.

Utah Public Safety Commissioner Robert Flowers has spent the past several months trying to recruit officers from both inside and outside of Utah who will make up the 6,000 to 7,000 public-safety personnel for the Games.

So far, about 520 police from out of state have committed to work the Olympics, Flowers said.

"I was expecting probably 800 or so," Flowers said following a meeting Wednesday of the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command. "The response has been good, but it hasn't been as good as we thought it would be."

Flowers said to make up for the lack of response from out of state, security planners are looking at cutting back police numbers inside venues. Flowers admits not all venue commanders like that idea but said he thought the number of officers inside venues were high to begin with. The U.S. Secret Service will also send several hundred agents to provide perimeter security outside the venues, Flowers said.

Despite the possible cutbacks, Flowers insisted security for the Games would not suffer.

The leader of Utah's Olympic public-safety preparations attributed a slowing economy and hiring difficulties for police forces nationwide to the limited response.

"They're having such a hard time recruiting that they just can't let them go," Flowers said.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard, who sits on the 20-member board for the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command, announced Wednesday that the Las Vegas Sheriff's Office has committed to sending a helicopter and five people to the Olympics.

Flowers will continue his recruiting efforts in Utah to find the necessary officers. Exactly how many in-state police will actually work the Games is still being determined, Olympic public safety spokeswoman Tamara Palmer said.

"It's still something that's being worked on, and we don't have specific numbers right now," Palmer said. "We don't know whom we're going to be using. That won't be known until about September."

Flowers said he didn't see a problem with departments using the mandatory 40 hours of training required annually for each officer through Peace Officer Standards and Training for Olympic-related instruction instead. Freeing up that training time might ease some Utah agencies' concerns over sending police officers to the Olympics, Flowers said.

Kennard said he has already looked at using the 40 hours of POST training for Olympic instruction.

"Look seriously at your training commitment," Kennard urged fellow command members. "If there's anything we need to be doing right now it's taking this training seriously."

Also discussed at Wednesday's meeting was the accidental posting of the Olympic public safety training schedule on the command's Web site, www.uopsc.org.

The training schedule was copied to a message board on a Utah animal-rights Web site, said Lt. Mitch McKee, who runs UOPSC's Olympic intelligence center. Within half a day McKee said his office noticed the information on the animal-rights Web site and immediately removed the training schedule from its own site.

"We've had some security leaks that will come up," McKee said. "These things are going to continue to happen if we don't stay on top of it."

To help, a group of representatives from the federal government will also come to Utah later this month to train Olympic security planners and other local leaders "how to keep critical information that we need to keep public safety away from people that may use it to undermine public safety," McKee said.

E-mail: djensen@desnews.com