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  Flatfoot’s Day at the Races
Virginia Lawrence | Caminito Del Rocio

 

Officer Bob on Opening Day 2009. If you see him this year, please be sure to say Hi. Photo Sandy Berman

It’s Concert Day at the Races and the spectators are snaking through Security. “Gotta look in your backpack,” says Bob Berman to a young fan. Bob, a retired peace officer, has been hired by the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club for the racing season. The young man pulls out his wallet and a package of methamphetamine falls on the ground. Bob arrests him with apologies. “Not your lucky day.”

The Security team, about 100 strong, many of whom are retired police, military, fire fighters and teachers, operates on a 24-hour schedule which includes the night shift in the stables. Bob normally puts in a 5-day week from 11:30am to 6:30pm; however, the hours can be longer on Opening Day and for the Pacific Classic.

About a week before opening day the Security officers undergo an 8-hour training course. They learn how to evacuate the Fairgrounds in the event of an earthquake or fire, and how to deal with a “Jockey Down” or a “Loose Horse” situation. (If a horse gets loose, the stadium goes into lockdown.) Training also covers dealing with weapons of mass destruction. Luckily for Bob his main problem has been his own feet; he never gets to sit down except at lunchtime.

The first year Bob took part in what he refers to as his “Summer Camp,” he spent three days directing traffic out on Jimmy Durante. Then he moved inside to work in the grandstand where he enjoys interacting with the fans. All kinds of people enjoy horse-racing, from laborers to multi-millionaires and, says Bob, he cannot always tell the difference. In talking to the racegoers, Bob has learned that Del Mar’s Racetrack is viewed as the most fun in the entire country. Saratoga, he confides, is safe enough, but the upstate New York Security Officers are reputed to be a grumpy bunch.

Occasionally Bob is assigned to the Winner’s Circle. Here the brief is to make sure all the people who try to get into the picture with the winning horse are friends of the owner or trainer, and that no one brings any alcohol. Crowd control here is especially important - screaming spectators can spook a horse. It has happened that the winning mount has unseated his jockey in their moment of shared glory.

Bob says that most of the problems which surface have to do with thieves and drunks. Pick-pocketing has not been much of a problem; however, people who leave their purses on their seats can lose them quickly. Drunks tend to get into fights. When this happens, Security gives them a choice - 1) have a sober friend take them home, or 2) go to jail.

Aside from “Where are the bathrooms?,” the most common question Bob hears is “Do you have any tips?” Bob says he doesn’t. “If I did, I wouldn’t be working here.”

Bob Berman, who lives in Del Mar Terrace, retired from the California Department of Justice after 32 years as a Special Agent Supervisor, having served in various bureaus including Narcotic Enforcement, Organized Crime and Criminal Intelligence, Major Fraud and the California Bureau of Investigation.


 
 

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