ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Last season, one Buffalo Bills fan set himself on fire. Another crashed himself into a van while playing the game Dizzy Bat. Video from wild Bills tailgates made waves across the sports blogosphere in 2015, resulting in numerous social media sensations.
The Bills, in collaboration with the Orchard Park Police Department, would like to erase that reputation. This season, with the home opener against the New York Jets just one week away, the team and police have emphasized an increase in security near private parking lots.
Orchard Park Police Chief Mark Pacholec said these private lots require the most attention from law enforcement.
"We're not talking about the mom-and-dad, smaller lots, and we're not talking about the bulk of them, but there are a handful of them-- five, six lots, that continually present problems," Pacholec said. "Car larcenies. People jumping on burning tables and setting themselves on fire. People don't stupid things that are going to get themselves and others hurt."
The Bills and Orchard Park Police support a permit system for private lot owners to allow police access, which they believe would help law enforcement handle situations on private property near the stadium. In a letter to neighbors in Orchard Park, the Bills encouraged this permit system as a way to "prevent some of the dangerous and inappropriate incidents from happening in our community."
In that same letter, the Bills called recent fan behavior a "concerning issue."
"Some of these incidents include fires burning out of control requiring fire company response, people setting themselves on fire requiring fire and emergency medical services response, fans destroying property, and people engaging in lewd acts," the letter stated. "The negative feedback from fans and neighbors is obviously disappointing, and the viral videos depicting Bills fans involved in dangerous and/or inappropriate behavior give our community (and the Bills) a black eye."
The Bills invited private lot owners to a meeting at One Bills Drive on Sept. 13 at 6 p.m., which will also include town officials and Chief Pacholec.
Daniel Pelsey, a homeowner in Orchard Park who has let fans park on his lawn for about six years, said he'll attend that meeting next week. He opposes the idea of a permit system.
"I don't think it's any of their business who I park," Pelsey said, "or why I park."
However, Orchard Park Town Board Member Michael Sherry said the board is unlikely to take any legislative action requiring these permits for private lot owners.
Even without a permit system, police are still looking for ways to increase security on private lots without trampling on the constitutional rights of homeowners.
"There actually may be some case law that may allow us to go on properties that do take money for parking, without any legislative action," Pacholec said. "We don't want to violate people's rights, but we also want to protect the public. Keep in mind, given the nature of events in the world, there's also some bigger issues we have to be aware of and have to be able to try to intervene on, so that nobody gets hurt."
Patrick Keem, the Town Supervisor of Orchard Park, said he has met with several private lot owners. He also said he'll attend the meeting next week with the Bills and those lot owners.
"Our main concern, as a town, is for the safety of our residents," Keem said. "Obviously, on a Sunday, or a Thursday night, which is coming up soon, you have a lot of people visiting Orchard Park. And we want to assure that traffic flows in and out, quickly and orderly, and that everybody's safe."
At a meeting last night, the Orchard Park Town Board passed a resolution to approve commercial parking permits for the upcoming season. Those lots are considered a different category than private lots.