SDCC 2019: San Diego preps Comic-Con security measures ahead of massive pop culture convention

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Separating real threats from good-natured cosplay fun can be challenging for law enforcement when more than 130,000 Comic-Con attendees descend on San Diego wielding replica weapons and dressed in superhero and villain costumes.

The annual Comic-Con International convention returns to San Diego on Thursday through Sunday bringing with it enthusiastic costumed fans, snarled downtown traffic and security challenges for local law enforcement.

“The safety and security of all the exhibitors and attendees at Comic-Con is of paramount importance to the San Diego Police Department,” said San Diego police spokesman Sgt. Michael P. Stirk. “Attendees at the convention will see uniformed officers on patrol throughout the venue and Downtown San Diego.”

Protecting against possible threats is always a top concern with such a high-profile event and so many people in and around the San Diego Convention Center.

“There are numerous safety precautions taken that will be unseen,” Stirk said. “The exact measures are confidential, but we work with all stakeholders to make the event as safe as possible.”

Police, fire and safety first responders in San Diego along with event organizers have been preparing for months to develop a comprehensive Comic-Con security plan.

Safety and security are of critical importance at Comic-Con, said David Glanzer, chief communications and strategy officer for the comic book convention.

“While it is our policy to not discuss specifics of security at our events, we have an ongoing, active relationship with the San Diego Police Department and other law enforcement officials,” Glanzer said. “This has resulted in continuous discussions throughout the year on various aspects of safety and security and the implementation of additional measures.”

Comic-Con hires additional security personnel and operates an on-site police command post at the convention center during the event, Glanzer said.

Since its inception in 1970, Comic-Con has swelled from a small confab drawing a few hundred attendees to a pop culture mecca that swamps San Diego every July. Comic-Con venues now spill out of the convention center to nearby hotels, Petco Park and portions of the Gaslamp Quarter. Fans in cosplay costumes choke downtown San Diego sidewalks and walkways.

While Comic-Con permits simulated weapons with costumes, functional guns, knives, swords and other working props are prohibited. Cosplayers will need to get their mock weaponry inspected at the costume prop desks in Hall E and Lobby C2 prior to entering the convention floor.

Comic-Con is serious about its weapons checks. Projectile weapons – such as a bow and arrow – must be rendered inoperable. Real arrows must have their tips removed and be zip-tied into a quiver. Costume swords have to be tethered to the costume so that they can’t be drawn. Only active, on-duty police officers can carry firearms at Comic-Con.

Comic-Con is known for being a showplace for outrageous costumes. But there are still rules.

Stilt-walkers must have their cosplay outfits approved by the costume prop desk. Attendees in oversized costumes could be asked to leave the exhibit hall for safety reasons or if crowds grow too large.

Selfie sticks and GoPro poles are a no-go at Comic-Con. So are bikes and scooters – both foot-powered and electric – inside or outside the convention center. Hoverboards are strictly prohibited at Comic-Con by order of the fire marshall.

No drones are allowed in the convention center or on the grounds.

Harbor Drive in front of the convention center will be restricted to all traffic while Comic-Con is in session. No cars, bicycles, electric bikes, scooters, electric scooters or skateboards will be allowed on Harbor Boulevard between First Avenue and Park Boulevard. The temporary vehicle restriction zone will be open to shuttle buses and emergency vehicles as well as for handicap drop-off and pick-up.

A 12-block area bounded by Harbor Drive, 3rd Avenue, Island Avenue and 7th Avenue will be designated a 3 mph Zone.

No Uber, Lyft or other rideshare drop-offs or pick-ups will be permitted in the Harbor Drive restricted zone, the convention center frontage drive or on Embarcadero Marina Park South. Your best bet: Pick a location outside the Harbor Drive and 3-mph exclusion zones for your rideshare drop-off or pick-up and walk the last leg of your journey.

Thousands of Comic-Con attendees use the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System every year to get to and from the event. The San Diego trolley makes stops directly in front of the convention center. Transit officers and K9 units will be patrolling trains, routes and platforms throughout Comic-Con’s four-day run.

You’ll need a Comic-Con badge to get onto the convention center grounds and into the building during the event. That includes the frontage drive, terraces, parks and sidewalks. No badge, no access. Not even to take a quick photo. The goal: Reduce crowding and congestion near the convention center while increasing security and safety.

Comic-Con badges have radio frequency identification tags to help prevent scalping and counterfeiting. Attendees will need to scan their badges to get into the convention and other event locations around downtown San Diego. Those who don’t tap their badges to exit could be denied re-entry to Comic-Con.