Mansfield authorities say culture of drugs and alcohol, not security, cause of Comcast Center deaths

MANSFIELD—Officials tonight said the rise in heavy drinking and drug use at the Comcast Center, where two men died last month of apparent overdoses, reflects a broader cultural problem and said the arena’s security staff has worked well with the local police force to try to mitigate the effects of reckless behavior.

“It’s an alcohol-soaked society,” said Mansfield Police Chief Arthur O’Neill during a public meeting of the Board of Selectmen at Town Hall.

O’Neill said police and security staff at the center are working closely together to limit the repercussions of substance abuse at center events.

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“We have a well oiled machine down there between our police officers” and the security staff, he said.

O’Neill also expressed skepticism that drug-sniffing dogs could be effective at the center, since they are only able to work for about 20 minutes at a time.

“It would take dozens of dogs,” O’Neill said, adding that drug dogs can sometimes attack people.

Tonight’s discussion came after Connor Brandon, a 19-year-old from Acton, and Dominic Impelizzieri, 27, of Syracuse, N.Y., both died of drugs and alcohol in their systems at an all-day festival at the center on July 26.

Authorities said drug and alcohol use was rampant at the show, and 19 other people were hospitalized for drug-related problems. Some patrons took powerful combinations of ecstasy, PCP, and marijuana, officials said.

Less than a week later, police arrested 35 people at a hip-hop show and took scores more into protective custody for drunkenness at the center, which has a capacity of about 20,000.

But despite the recent troubles, Frederick Mahony, chief investigator of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, told selectmen tonight that collaboration between local police and center security is strong.

“I really consider the Comcast Center one of the best [venues] in the state,” Mahony said, adding that he has personally observed private staff members checking identifications and prevented intoxicated patrons from purchasing alcohol.

Officials tonight said that while security staff is free to conduct random searches of concert-goers, police officers cannot because of constitutional prohibitions.

O’Neill told the Globe last week that almost three dozen police officers worked the hip-hop show, a larger contingent than usual, but heavy drinking was still a problem.

He said that while the number of arrests at concerts has held steady in recent years, the level of drunkenness has spiked, with more teenagers and young adults guzzling drinks with high alcohol content.

Public safety officials contend that such behavior is placing a heavy demand on law enforcement and emergency responders.

But O’Neill has said he believes that security is tight enough and called on parents to “step up” and be aware of what their children are doing when they attend concerts at the center.

Selectman Jess Aptowitz said tonight that problems include flasks designed to help people conceal alcoholic beverages and sophisticated fake identifications to allow underaged concert goers to drink.

“These counterfeiters are making things that are the next level,” Aptowitz said.

Neal Boldrighini, the town’s fire chief, wrote in a report following the deaths in July that staffing levels are not sufficient to handle the current crowd activity.

The owner of the venue, concert giant Live Nation, could not immediately be reached for comment tonight.

According to the Live Nation website, Comcast Center workers will not serve alcoholic beverages to anyone they believe to be intoxicated, and alcohol sales end at least one hour before the scheduled end of a show.

Bringing alcohol into the center or leaving with it is prohibited, according to the website, and anyone patron in possession of alcohol can be asked at any time to produce valid identification.

“Our policies are in place for your protection, as well as ours,” the site states.

Town Manager William R. Ross said in his remarks tonight that while the recent deaths at the center are tragic, most concert-goers act appropriately.

“In a perfect world there would be no person taken into custody or requiring medical attention,” Ross said. “... Unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world.”