For Buffalo Bills fans, this Thursday night brings the team’s home opener and a “new norm” in game-day security.
SWAT team members armed with rifles, explosives-detecting dogs, and bomb-squads on standby are all part of the new security plan. Some of the measures were seen at the final games of last season in response to November’s terror attacks in Paris.
Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard pointed out that SWAT team members have always been on-site during games, but they haven’t always been so visible.
“They have always been here,” said Howard. “The difference now is, given what’s happened at some other stadiums around the world, its better protection for the fans that they suit up. It would make them able to respond more quickly in the event that we had any kind of crisis here.”
Bills Vice President of Operations and Guest Experience Andy Major said since last season, most fans seemed to welcome the added security – in particular the SWAT personnel.
“We were a little surprised, to be honest with you, when we rolled this out. But fans really responded in a positive way,” said Major. “I think they do realize it might be the new norm, moving forward. We only ask fans to realize that they are working individuals. We do get a lot of fans that want to take pictures with those folks sometimes and I think the fans have embraced it and they do recognize that we need it.”
Howard gave the assurance that law enforcement personnel being positioned at the stadium are meant to enhance fans’ game day experience, and are not anxious to make arrests. He reported that arrest statistics at Bills games have actually been cut in half from 2013 to 2015, and said he’d be pleased to have the season go by with no arrests.
With the home opener expected to draw a great deal of fans and attention, Howard said his office may choose to increase personnel beyond what’s currently planned. Whether that extra staffing will remain throughout the season has yet to be determined.
In addition to the added Sheriff’s personnel, every gate around the stadium now has walk-through metal detectors which fans will be required to pass through. He said it will alleviate the physically demanding process of Bills’ security staff “wanding” every guest at entry.
“So fans will see a quicker process to get inside the gates, but also a safer process,” said Major.
Ticket-holders won’t have to remove keys, wallets, and loose change on entry, but they will have to take out items like cell phones, camera cases, and eyeglass cases.
Major also pointed out that access to the stadium’s camper lot has changed, in that the team has changed to a system of advanced parking passes available for purchase. He said it allows for local police to keep streets safer and free of lines of vehicles and campers waiting to purchase parking passes.
With the new security measures, fans are reminded to arrive at least an hour prior to kick-off to ensure a smooth entry and no missed game time.