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Security? Browns’ boss knows a bit

BEREA, Ohio – If Lew Merletti isn’t worried, NFL fans shouldn’t be either.

Merletti has safely protected three Presidents, the Pope and world leaders from terrorists in the United States and hostile Middle Eastern countries worldwide.

On Sunday, he’ll make sure the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and more than 70,000 others are unharmed.

Merletti, a former director of the Secret Service, has been the Browns’ security director for the past three years. An anti-terrorism expert, he said Cleveland fans need not worry about being safe in a packed stadium this or any other Sunday.

“The fans should feel very secure,” Merletti said on Thursday. “You will have the best security league-wide.”

Following last week’s terrorist attacks, the NFL consulted with Merletti, 52, on new security measures to be implemented this week when the season resumes.

Merletti is part of an eight-person task force formed by the league to handle security in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

When Merletti was hired by team owner Al Lerner to head the Browns’ security operations in October 1998, many wondered why the team would need to go to such extremes to ensure safety.

However, in light of the recent events, the Browns feel better than ever about his addition.

“It’s prophetic almost,” team president Carmen Policy said.

Merletti outlined the club’s security plans for this week’s home game against the Lions at a Thursday news conference.

Fans may not bring in any bag larger than a small purse. No bags, backpacks, fanny packs, large purses or large camera bags will be allowed in. Binoculars, diaper bags and small cameras will be permitted but subject to inspection.

Merletti, a decorated member of the Army’s Special Forces and a 25-year veteran of the Secret Service, said he and his security staff are prepared to make the stadium safe.

“This is what we live for,”said Merletti. “It’s nothing that we aren’t prepared for. We have the methods.”

Merletti said he has been in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration about restricting airspace around Cleveland Browns Stadium, which is located next to Burke Lakefront Airport. He expects air traffic to be off limits within a mile radius from the stadium.

He said there will be a 30 percent increase in uniformed police officers at the stadium and canine bomb-sniffing units would make sweeps of the facility leading up to game day.

From firsthand experience, Merletti knew the job the Secret Service faced during last week’s attacks.

In subsequent conversations with officials in Washington, Merletti learned that procedures he helped put in place while director were successful.

“I felt a lot of pride,” he said. “I’m glad we had the stuff there, so things weren’t worse.”

Lerner knew Merletti for several years before hiring him.

“If some genius wants to start a problem, this would not be the best season for him to do that,” Lerner said. “He ought to hold off a little bit because the level of security and the level of care that we and all other teams are going show the rest of the season is something no one has seen before – and that’s not a bad thing.

“It’s a shame it had to happen this way, and I’m sure the government will find the perpetrators and do the right thing.”

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