It’s one thing – and an important one – to keep the Buffalo Bills in Western New York, a goal that seems to have been accomplished with the proposed new lease for the team. It is equally important, however, to keep Western New Yorkers, and others, in Ralph Wilson Stadium. As popular as the Bills are here, the behavior of some fans makes that no sure thing.
Fortunately, that critical part of the equation is also being dealt with in a proposed agreement being added to the new lease. In it, the Bills and Erie County have agreed to double the presence of county police inside and outside the stadium. The price of misbehavior is about to rise, and it’s about time.
The Bills are looking to add 128 more Erie County sheriff’s deputies or officers from other agencies to patrol Ralph Wilson Stadium when the team plays. The Bills would bear the cost.
The point is to beef up security inside and around the stadium to make game day more family friendly. Uniformed officers would supplement security employed by the team and sheriff’s deputies who already provide traffic patrols.
The plan is to more than double the 85 to 90 deputies who already work the games in Orchard Park, and the need is painfully obvious. Drunkenness is only the start of the catalog of repulsive behavior that has occurred at the stadium, but it’s bad enough – especially when those football fans pour themselves into their cars after the game.
The Bills have tried other strategies, including providing easier ways for fans to report misbehavior; creating a more visible security presence; offering free cab rides to some ejected fans and encouraging the use of designated drivers; opening stadium lots later, to reduce pregame drinking; and requiring ejected fans to complete a four-hour online course before they can attend another game.
It has not been enough. Abusive behavior continues at rates that should be intolerable, especially given the price of tickets. Many families already have to struggle to attend a game. Why should they bother if the drunks and other rowdies are going to spoil the day?
The beefed-up police presence stands to make a real difference. Doubling the force on duty counts as a serious effort to combat a festering problem. The Bills have taken an important step to regain control of their stadium and, just as important, to ensure that fans who dig deep to enjoy the thrill of a professional football game get to do that. Here’s hoping the free-for-all is over.