Under the stadium lights and with a key divisional rival across the field, it will be all hands on deck Monday night at New Era Field.
And that's not just the thinking from Buffalo Bills players or coach Sean McDermott.
That includes law enforcement, too.
As "Monday Night Football" returns to Orchard Park for the first time in a decade, the Erie County Sheriff's Office is boosting the number of personnel on hand in and around the stadium for the game against the New England Patriots.
The extra law enforcement personnel will be deployed at the stadium to cover additional areas, including an outdoor studio for ESPN, Undersheriff Mark N. Wipperman said in an email to The Buffalo News. There are other additional "posts" that need to be covered, Wipperman said. Sheriff's personnel also will be deployed at all entrance gates to assist with screening fans entering the stadium, he said.
The Sheriff's Office ordered all available personnel to work Monday night, according to an Oct. 10 email sent by Wipperman to department personnel, a copy of which was obtained by The News.
That order was given so the agency would make sure it had enough staff to cover both the Bills game and the department's regular responsibilities around the county, including patrol and emergency response, along with staffing the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility, he told The News.
"Unfortunately, this rivalry brings out the worst in fan behavior," Wipperman wrote in the email to department staff. "The Patriots @ Bills home games have been our most challenging, especially last year when we struggled to maintain peace and order. We also encountered violent groups of fans that hurled rocks and bottles at our personnel and caused damage to our marked patrol vehicles. To make matters more challenging for us on the 29th, we add the component of a 'night game' which historically has led to an extremely busy and violent environment."
Orchard Park police also plan to have additional personnel on hand for the game and in the area during the day prior to the game, Chief Mark F. Pacholec said.
Orchard Park police and Sheriff's Office personnel, as well as the State Police, federal authorities and private security cover the stadium and surrounding areas for all Bills games. Sheriff's personnel and other agencies work inside the stadium and county-owned lots and other property. Orchard Park police typically handle everything "off-campus," including in private lots, Pacholec said. The Sheriff's Office may assist other agencies with calls off of county property depending on call volume, Wipperman said.
SWAT units also will be deployed around the stadium, which is something the agency started last year and which fans have given positive feedback about, the undersheriff said.
Sometimes crowds at night games are rowdier than those during Sunday afternoon games, Pacholec said. At Thursday night games in recent years, the crowds "typically are a little bit more challenging because people just tend to behave a little bit differently," he said.
The last Monday night game the Bills played at home was Nov. 17, 2008, a loss to the Cleveland Browns. That was the season after the infamous Monday night home loss against the Dallas Cowboys when 64 people were arrested.
Last year's home game against New England was the busiest of the season for sheriff's deputies, Wipperman said.
Of all the Bills' opponents who visit the stadium, the Patriots' fans tend to be among the largest contingent of out-of-towners, Wipperman said.
The Bills have only had two home games so far this season, but over that time authorities are seeing an average of 42 people ejected per game. That's an all-time low for the stadium, according to Wipperman.
Over the past two seasons, there have been an average of two arrests per game at New Era Field, he said.
"Historically, night games tend to be busier than Sunday 'day' games," he said.
A night game in November 2012 turned out to be deadly for one fan who attended the game. A Rochester-area man's body was found in a creek outside the stadium the morning after a Thursday night game against the Miami Dolphins. The man had been ejected from the game. Authorities ruled the death an "accidental drowning."
On Monday night, the Sheriff's Office will be "fully staffed" and ready to respond to any incidents.
"The vast majority of Bills fans are responsible and tailgate responsibly," the undersheriff said in an email. "We will continue to focus on the small minority of fans that don't comply with the laws and rules that are in place to ensure everyone can have fun and enjoy their game experience."
A Sheriff's Office spokesman last week denied the agency would be boosting personnel for the Bills game and insisted there would be no changes to staffing levels or any other facet of event security from the first two home games of the year or preseason games.
Wipperman credited department personnel – some of whom wanted the night off to watch the game – as well as union leaders, who worked with management and told their members "we need to step up on Monday," he said in an email.
"I'm very proud of our men and women over here," he wrote.
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