Orchard Park, NY (WIVB) - The Buffalo Bills and Erie County Sheriff's Office are reminding fans of new rules about what can and can't be brought into the parking lots and Ralph Wilson Stadium, ahead of Sunday's home opener against the New England Patriots.
The new policies got a dry run with the Bills' preseason home games. And they've made noticeable differences in the game day experience at "the Ralph," according to Erie County Sheriff, Tim Howard.
"A visual difference is, as you approach the stadium, in prior years you'd actually be walking sometimes on beer cans and beer bottles. The first two games, we haven't seen any of that. As you got close to the gate, the only thing we saw discarded right by the gate, was some personal items," Sheriff Howard told News 4 on Saturday.
Most of those personal items, said Howard, were purses left behind by women who weren't aware that purses are no longer allowed in the stadium.
Anything fans bring into the games now has to be in a clear plastic or vinyl bag, no larger than 12 by six by 12 inches. One-gallon, clear plastic freezer bags are also permitted. While purses are prohibited, small "clutch" style bags or wallets are allowed.
Sheriff Howard explains, the new bag policy allows security personnel to see what is coming into the stadium, without having to conduct time-consuming searches of people and their bags.
"We have a lot more police personnel working outside the stadium. This year, Erie County's being reimbursed by the Buffalo Bills for that. That should make for a better experience for everyone," said Sheriff Howard.
Last season, about 120 law enforcement officers worked security on game days at the stadium. This year, Howard said, more than double that number will be present at every home game.
"Historically, we had done more traffic on the outside. But now we're doing the traffic on the outside, as well as both behavior and safety issues on the inside," Howard explained.
The most common problems the Sheriff's Office deals with at Bills' games, Howard said, are smoking - which is not allowed anywhere in Ralph Wilson Stadium - excessive alcohol consumption, and fans complaining about other fans' behavior.
Partially for that reason, the Bills have changed tailgating rules as well. Kegs, funnels and glass bottles are no longer allowed in the parking lots.
"If they're saying no beer bottles, no kegs, and their staff are seeing it, telling the people to take the tap out of the keg, put the beer bottles back into the vehicle... and people think, 'Well, what's going to happen?' They can be told to leave the parking lot, just like they can be told to leave the stadium," Howard explained.
From what Howard has seen, fans seem to be adjusting well to the new rules. There have been no major problems during the preseason games, he said.
"Obviously, attendance was less," Howard said. "I know tomorrow's a sellout crowd. We want everybody to have fun, but that means everybody. And one person's misconduct shouldn't interfere with someone else's fun."
If you plan to drink, Howard reminds people, also plan on a designated driver. As in past years, police agencies all over Western New York will have extra DWI patrols and checkpoints out on game days.
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