Town and stadium owners at impasse over police details
The town of Foxborough and Kraft Group are at an impasse over the size and cost of security details at Gillette Stadium, and the next step could include arbitration or a trip to court.
Town selectmen and representatives of Kraft Group, which owns the stadium and the New England Patriots, have been arguing over staffing issues for months.
Stadium officials insist they will pay for no more than 126 officers per major event. Police chief Edward O’Leary said last week that he has suggested a higher figure during a series of closed-door meetings.
The issue came to a head with an Oct. 13 letter to selectmen, in which Mark Briggs, Kraft Group’s chief operating officer, told the town that it won’t be paid for “unreasonable staffing levels.’’ And Kraft Group has held up a number of payments until O’Leary submits supporting documentation.
According to the letter, O’Leary had submitted invoices for the AC Milan vs. Inter Milan soccer match, the AC/DC concert, and the New England Country Music Festival, but didn’t include documents explaining the staffing for those events, or future events.
Further complicating the negotiations, Briggs also said that on-duty Foxborough police officers on occasion acted aggres sively toward patrons and officers from other agencies.
Selectmen chairman Paul Feeney said it’s critical for the town, as the regulatory authority, to determine the “acceptable level of risk’’ in staffing stadium events. “What if the unthinkable happens and we are not covered?’’ he said.
As the spat over security simmered last summer, selectmen delayed renewing the stadium’s annual license until just weeks before the Patriots’ first preseason game. When the agreement was approved, it contained a new condition allowing it to “modify, suspend, or revoke’’ the privilege if the stadium violates its terms.
The agreement covers issues as diverse as public safety, traffic, crowd control, fireworks, and handicapped parking spaces. If there are violations, the new condition submitted by O’Leary allows selectmen to hold a hearing, then decide on a course of action. If the two sides can’t come to terms, the town has the option of seeking out an arbitrator.
Stacey James, a stadium spokesman, said last week that the company’s position on staffing hasn’t changed, and won’t change in the future.
But he added, “Our hope and goal is to work with the town that has been a great host to us all these years.’’
Feeney hopes the sides continue to meet and, “hopefully, the stadium will say, ‘OK, Foxborough, we understand, and let’s just fix it, pay you what we owe you, and move on.’ ’’
Selectman Paul Mortenson has another idea.
“I would love to see us reach into our wallets, and maybe the Patriots would help, too, to hire a consultant,’’ Mortenson said. “I don’t feel comfortable poking my nose into this because none of us are public safety officers. We have to look to our chief . . . and while I fully back him, the Patriots folks are pretty smart, too.’’
Foxborough receives about $1.5 million a year in reimbursements for police and fire details at the stadium, said Randy Scollins, the town’s finance director. Everything except a small administrative fee is paid out for security details staffed with officers from around the region.
Scollins said he couldn’t provide an average detail cost because each one is configured to the expected crowd’s size and type of event.
Gillette Stadium is notorious for keeping police busy, whether it be unclogging traffic jams or managing unruly crowds. O’Leary said increased coverage is a must to combat underage drinking, along with the stepped-up security and terrorist concerns that come with a huge NFL stadium.
Attendance at last week’s game against the Miami Dolphins was 70,000, O’Leary said, but good behavior resulted in just a few dozen arrests.
Also at issue are allegations Foxborough police officers have used excessive force and intimidation while working events at the massive Route 1 facility, which is also staffed on game and event days by police from around the region seeking extra pay.
While neither side offered details, Briggs addressed the issue in that same Oct. 13 letter.
Briggs said he was frustrated at the town’s lack of response to several allegations. There have been comlpaints of a Foxborough police officer who verbally abused and physically intimidated a Kraft family guest during a traffic stop; a town motorcycle officer who refused to respond to a mounted State Police trooper during a U2 concert on Sept. 21, spooking the horse by revving his engine instead; and officers who were aggressive with patrons in a parking lot after the Patriots- Ravens game on Oct. 4.
Other allegations have included claims an officer was watching the football game, instead of standing at his post.
“The attitude being expressed by inattention to these matters is only making certain officers more brazen’’ in their “disregard of public safety,’’ Briggs said.
“We assume the chief is motivated by concerns for public safety; however, these excessive deployments are having the opposite effect,’’ he said.
Mortensen said Kraft Group was using isolated incidents to make its case for fewer officers at events.
“I don’t buy that,’’ he said. “That’s advocacy.’’
O’Leary declined to address the cases, but said that the town has retained an outside investigator to look into the more serious allegations, while the rest are being handled internally.
Mortenson and Feeney both said public safety is a top concern in Foxborough; that the town is acting appropriately; and that selectmen, Kraft officials, and O’Leary will continue meeting to try to bring about a positive outcome.
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org