MANSFIELD – Foxborough Chief of Police Edward O’Leary and Fire Chief Roger Hatfield each met with Mansfield town officials during Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting to contribute to the town’s conversation involving security at the Comcast Center.
According to Mansfield Patch, selectmen were engaged in a “heated discussion” at Wednesday’s meeting regarding the issue of security and alcohol at the Comcast Center in the wake of two deaths, an attempted rape charge and other violent incidents during these concerts.
Mansfield selectmen reportedly spoke to many law enforcement officials in an effort to find effective ways to curtail drug use and alcohol consumption, primarily underage drinking.
O’Leary and Hatfield were part of that conversation because of their experience with major events, including Patriots games and the New England Country Music Festival, throughout the year at Gillette Stadium.
O'Leary spoke from 26 years of experience as police chief in Foxborough and said problems that occur during events at venues like Gillette Stadium and the Comcast Center begin in the parking lots.
"I attended an NFL Security Conference in June," O'Leary said. "One of the training sessions was specifically on how to deal more effectively with the crowds and parking, because that’s the genesis of many of the problems that we have. It’s not unique to us, we discussed strategies that would help address those issues."
O'Leary shared some of those strategies with Mansfield selectmen Wednesday, explaining that Foxborough Police has tried to devise various systems to address ticket verification, tailgating and parking, but no plan is "fool proof."
"It’s a challenging process," O'Leary said, who added it can also lead to an "unfortunate situation" for the town, similar to what Mansfield is currently experiencing.
"It can happen in any venue across the country, and it has," O'Leary said.
Mansfield Fire and Police chiefs agreed with O'Leary that the problem at the Comcast Center lies within the crowds in the parking lots and the types of crowds that are attracted to certain performances.
The recent Identity Tour at the Comcast Center, which resulted in the death of two men from alleged drug overdoses, saw a host of illegal drugs, such as LSD, Ecstasy, PCP and others, according to Mansfield Patch.
“The last eight or nine years has seen a change in the crowds,” said Mansfield Police Chief Arthur O’Neill. “It’s an alcohol soaked society… We’ve always have and continue to adapt to the changing dynamics of the situation and we always will.”
Foxborough Fire Chief Roger Hatfield agreed that times have changed regarding use of alcohol at public events.
"When we’re looking at the actual young folks that are attending these events, it’s not the good old beer days; everything’s gone for the hard liquor and the thing there that happens, especially during summer events, people think they’re quenching their thirst by drinking more when they’re hot, when they’re actually adding even more danger to themselves," Hatfield said.
As a result, the situations are similar at both Gillette Stadium and the Comcast Center, primarily the strain on EMS services.
"They’re causing us to deal with the types of situations that [Mansfield] is experiencing," Hatfield said. ... "From the medical side, we are changing the curve. People used to go to concerts and sporting events, it used to always be beer. Now they're doing substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and it makes for a real tragic scene."
Mansfield selectmen discussed several suggestions to improve safety and security at Comcast Center events, including drug detecting dogs, searches and police training for private security detail.
O’Neill said drug sniffing dogs have limitations like needing a rest after 25 minutes and increasing dogs at the gates of the Comcast Center would require more handlers.
Former Foxborough and current Mansfield Town Counsel Paul DeRensis said police couldn’t search persons and vehicles outside or inside the venue because it would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Mansfield selectman George Dentino suggested the problem stems from what happens in the parking lots of these events and said there should be a small part or section of the lot that allows tailgating and alcohol with proper identification checks, something similar to what Foxborough has tried in the past.
“It would be nice to try,” O’Neill said. “Foxborough tried to have a nondrinking parking lot… Logistically it would be a tough thing to pull off.”
Another safety issue centers on the type of tickets being issued for Comcast events.
The Comcast Center currently uses paper tickets that can be duplicated via a printer and at the moment, can only be scanned once (and would be impossible to distinguish without scanning). Police would be hard-pressed to make sure that everyone in the lot had a ticket.
O'Leary added to that discussion, explaining Gillette Stadium has moved to using cardboard tickets to help prevent this issue. He said the problem with the tickets is that checking everyone takes too much time and the process has to be done quickly to prevent other issues from arising.
"One of the things the stadium has done for a show is that tickets are no longer printable on home computers," O'Leary said. ... "How successful it? When traffic backs up we have to speed up the [ticket checking] process ... it’s an issue because one of the most difficult shows we had was because of the amount of unticketed people in the parking lot. It’s a challenging process."
To read more from Mansfield Patch regarding safety issues at the Comcast Center, click here.