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Orchard Park board weighs police access to private lots

For years, game day in Orchard Park has been payday for owners of homes and businesses in the shadow of Ralph Wilson Stadium looking to make extra money by charging for parking.

But in an era of heightened security and the threat of terrorism, elected officials are debating a proposal to allow police access to these private lots as an extra level of security for Buffalo Bills games and other events at the stadium.

The proposal was debated Wednesday night during a meeting of the Town Board.

To run private parking lots, currently, residents have to obtain a permit from the town, one that has to be renewed each year. That much would not change, but there would be one more stipulation – the waiver allowing police access.

“The issue is public safety,” Supervisor Patrick J. Keem said. “Unfortunately in our society in general, there have been some breakdowns in behavior.”

In particular, the threat of terrorism was cited as the main reason that police want access to private lots.

Police Chief Mark F. Pacholec, who recently attended a National Football League security conference, said that there have already been a number of plots interrupted at games. He also described suspicious incidents at Bills games, with people caught conducting surveillance on the stadium.

The lots – commercial or private – can be an advantage to someone hoping to commit a crime, Pacholec added.

“These individuals don’t just appear – they’re around,” he said. “We want to interdict these things before they become a problem.”

The chief and other members of the board also emphasized that the proposed security measure could help curb lewd behavior. The private lots, Pacholec said, have been the scene of incidents fueled by alcohol, including acts of arson and public sex. He said that some of these have “gone viral” on social media, casting a negative light on the community.

Also, extra personnel on game day will be a change for some people, the police chief said, adding that the Bills would invite owners of private lots to a meeting before the season to have their questions answered.

“If there is assistance that people need, they will be assisted,” Pacholec said.

Although board members appeared to be in favor of the concept, some of them raised concerns about constitutionality.

Michael J. Sherry, a board member and former assistant police chief, raised concerns about people losing their Fourth Amendment right to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure.

Sherry said that it would need to be clear when a parking lot permit is issued that people would be waiving such rights.

Under one proposal, if lot owners refused the waiver, they would be denied a permit to run a parking lot.

Sherry remained skeptical.

“I don’t know how I feel about that,” he said. “In a certain sense – and I know this is why this is so complicated – you’re basically telling someone who in the past has earned an income from this that unless they submit to the waiver, they are not getting this permit; they are going to suffer harm.”

The discussion on the issue lasted for about an hour. Board members said they plan to study the proposal further and seek input from local law enforcement agencies before there is any vote.

email: jhowland@buffnews.com