How Pasadena PD prepares for nearly 500,000 visitors every New Year’s Eve

By Cindy Arora

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Countdown to the Rose Parade

On the third floor of the Pasadena Police Department sits one of the busiest offices at the department.

One might think this would be Narcotics.

Perhaps Community Services.

Or even the SWAT team.

But in Pasadena, home of the iconic Rose Bowl and land of the Tournament of Roses, the busiest office award goes to Event Planning.

At Christmastime, picturesque Pasadena celebrates with twinkle lights strung along the streets, tree lighting’s, and Santa photos. For Pasadena PD’s Event Planning unit, the arrival of the merriest of seasons also begins a methodical preparation for the 300,000 to 500,000 visitors who come to Pasadena for rose parades, high school bands and college football.

“I’ve been a medic and I’ve been in war … But planning for the Rose Parade is still one of the most stressful jobs I’ve ever had,” said Lt. Sean Dawkins, who leads the Event Planning Unit.

Dawkins, who prides himself on having six Rose Bowls and six Rose Parades under his belt, has been a part of the Pasadena PD for 14 years. He has worked patrol, special unit, gangs and the SWAT team. He served in the Navy, worked as a medic with the Marines, and later joined the Navy Reserves, where he found himself serving in Kuwait after 9/11.

These days Dawkins commandeers one of the world’s largest parades, followed by an afternoon of college football at the Rose Bowl. Balancing the two massive events requires him to take all of the analytical and organizational skills he acquired from his police and military career and focus them toward ensuring the safety of New Year’s revelers.

“Our planning starts in October, but really we prepare for the Rose Parade/Rose Bowl all year long,” Lt. Dawkins said. “Every officer who works here has to work over the holidays. That’s just part of working at the Pasadena PD. It’s busy, it’s stressful, and 95 percent of our officers have to work it.”

Pasadena PD Lt. Sean Dawkins, center, attends a planning meeting at the Tournament House in Pasadena. Sitting next to him are Tournament of Roses Chair and Director for Life Cl Keedy, left, and Sgt. Jason Van Hecke.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Pasadena PD’s Event Planning Unit is unique in itself. Most PD’s don’t have a specialized unit that focuses on preparing for events in their cities. But not every city is home to the Rose Parade or the Rose Bowl.

In 2016, the city completed a decade-long $183 million renovation on the historic Rose Bowl. The new renovations have turned this 90,000-seat stadium into a popular event space for food festivals, marathons, soccer games, and musical headliners like Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, and the Rolling Stones.

For the small Pasadena PD Event Planning Unit, made up of Lt. Sean Dawkins, Sgt. Jason Van Hecke, Corporal David Duran, Officer Danny Morris, and CSO Arlene Ramos, the office is now in a constant state of motion as they look to staff events and prepare for traffic that will impact the neighborhoods surrounding the Rose Bowl.

Unlike other event planners, the Pasadena PD Event Planning Unit isn’t thinking about canapes, colorful linens, and seating arrangements.

They juggle traffic mitigation, counter terrorism, volunteers, pre-parade safety precautions, security alerts, Homeland Security, and the estimated 2,000 law enforcement officials who come from Pasadena PD, Glendale PD, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Every police officer must have a place amidst the robust holiday schedule and the Event Planning Unit must know where that person is at all times.

Pasadena officers helping to plan the upcoming Tournament of Roses are from left, Lt. Sean Dawkins, Sgt. Jason Van Hecke, Officer Danny Morris, Sgt. Greg Afsharian and CSO Arlene Ramos.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

This is where Sgt. Jason Van Hecke steps in.

The former Army Commander, who admits to color coordinating his closet and separating his shirts, trousers and jackets into different sections for optimal organization, is in charge of a 240-page staffing matrix.

“If you went in my closet, you would see I was made for this this job, “Van Hecke said. “I created the staffing matrix, color coordinated it and have a place for everyone. When you put 90,000 people in a stadium, it’s my job to think of all of the different things that can go wrong. Then I think of a plan of how we are going to staff it and prepare for it.”

Van Hecke was in the military for 22 years. His primary job was to have everything organized in place for the moment they received a call to deploy.

He’s worked in war zones, seen rockets whiz by on his way to work and had his office blown up by a missile while he and his unit were out to lunch.

“I have always been that calm guy. I don’t yell and I don’t freak out,” said Van Hecke, who has been with Pasadena PD for 20 years. “With this job, you need patience because there are a lot of things happening all the time. I have to make sure everyone is doing their job properly and that we have the resources to handle whatever is going to happen. When you don’t have this in place it creates opportunities for an opening and for something to go wrong.”

Pasadena PD Lt. Sean Dawkins, left, smiles while attending a Rose Parade planning meeting at the Tournament House in Pasadena. Sgt. Jason Van Hecke is next to him, right.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

As the phone lines buzz with requests for events at the Rose Bowl, there’s still nothing like the stress and preparation that comes with the holiday season at the Pasadena PD. Since Thanksgiving, the Event Planning Unit has felt each day get busier as New Year’s Eve gets closer.

“We have agencies to network with, deadlines to meet, traffic questions, maps, signs to put up … it’s stressful and there’s a lot to coordinate,” Lt. Dawkins said. “On New Year’s Eve, everyone on the Event Planning team starts their shift at 7 a.m. and is here until 7:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day. It’s exhausting. But the fans are coming no matter what, and we have to be prepared.”

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a Behind the Badge series called COUNTDOWN TO THE ROSE PARADE. We will look at what it takes for the Pasadena Police Department to prepare for “America’s New Year Celebration.”

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