Headline: Eagles, city plot tighter coverage for fan offenses
Reacting to the hooliganism at Veterans Stadium during a recent Monday night football game, the city and the Eagles yesterday announced plans to turn the Vet into a thug-free zone during NFL games. [source: http://www.phillynews.com/inquirer/97/Nov/21/front_page/]
By Phil Sheridan
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Reacting to the hooliganism at Veterans Stadium during a recent Monday night football game, the city and the Eagles yesterday announced plans to turn the Vet into a thug-free zone during NFL games.
Two municipal judges will be stationed there, to collect fines on the
spot or jail offenders immediately.
Extra security, including more city police officers patrolling the stadium, will increase the chances of arresting miscreants.
On Sunday, when the Eagles play Pittsburgh there at 1 p.m., some undercover officers will even wear Steelers jackets to try to discourage the kind of intimidation that marred the previous home game, Nov. 10 against the San Francisco 49ers.
It was the sheer ugliness in the stands that Monday night, some of it televised by ABC, that prompted this crackdown, which Mayor Rendell and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie announced at a City Hall news conference.
"Veterans Stadium is one of the great public spaces in Philadelphia," Lurie said. "The last three years, there has been well over a 30 percent decrease in the number of complaints. But that's not enough. After a setback like this, you've got to take action."
Rendell said he knew something had to be done when he heard a number of horror stories from fans on sports radio station WIP-AM (610).
"I heard comments from fans who said, 'Look, anyone who goes to an Eagles game should know that they can't bring their kids with them to the game,' " Rendell said.
"That is unacceptable to us as a city, and it's certainly unacceptable to the Philadelphia Eagles football organization. Taking your kids to a sporting event is one of the best experiences you can have."
That experience can become an ordeal when you're surrounded by drunken, rowdy and even violent fans. During the San Francisco game, there were numerous fights, many of which began when Eagles fans intimidated fans wearing 49ers gear. At the end of the game, a man from Toms River, N.J., was arrested after he was accused of shooting a flare across the stadium. The man, Robert Sellers, faces eight criminal charges, including arson and drug possession.
"There is a very disturbing element in the minority of our fans who believe that Eagles game day means getting drunk, going into the stadium, intimidating the neighbors, using foul language, throwing things at people, and ultimately fisticuffs in the aisle," City Councilman James F. Kenney said.
"It's a very small group of people. It's a very disturbing group of people. And their behavior needs to be modified."
That's where Municipal Court Judge Seamus McCaffery comes in, with an adaptation of the city's floating "night court" program, which visits neighborhoods where so-called "quality of life" crimes are rampant. McCaffery has spent many Saturday evenings on South Street, doling out fines for summary offenses such as underage drinking, public drunkenness, and disturbing the peace.
McCaffery, who volunteers his time for the program, will be one of two judges on hand Sunday. Then, depending on the volume of cases, one or two will be on duty for the team's final two homes games. Their temporary court will be set up on the first floor of the stadium, near the two holding cells used by stadium-based police.
Police normally cite fans for such offenses during games. But many people fail to appear in court, and the city doesn't have the resources to follow up what are relatively minor offenses. McCaffery described what will happen to fans who run afoul of the law Sunday.
"You will be arrested, handcuffed, taken directly downstairs in front of a judge, who will be sitting in full robes, in a courtroom," McCaffery said. "If you're found guilty, you'll receive a significant fine. And if you don't pay, you will be sent to jail."
If a defendant wishes to be represented by an attorney, McCaffery said, the judges will set bail and arrange a court date.
"We will be strictly enforcing all of Philadelphia's quality-of-life crimes," McCaffery sai, "including underage drinking, disorderly conduct, disruptive behavior, and any other conduct that will affect other fans."
Fines, McCaffery said, can be $250 to $300 for most of the "quality-of-life" crimes.
Lurie said any season-ticket holders who are convicted of game-day offenses would lose the right to buy future season tickets. If an offender is using a ticket issued to a season-ticket holder, the ticket holder could lose the seats.
The city will pay about $3,500 a game to put additional police in and around the Vet on game days for the rest of this season. The Eagles normally pay about $23,000 to have 120 Philadelphia police officers at games. That is in addition to security personnel from a private firm hired by the Eagles.
Lurie said the additional security people would patrol the parking lots around the stadium, policing tailgate parties. Guards will be posted at the foot of every ramp leading to the stadium, stopping fans with alcoholic beverages.
Inside the stadium, Lurie said, concessionaire Ogden Services Corp. has agreed to strict enforcement of the team's ban on beer sales after the start of the third quarter. The Eagles also asked Ogden to check identification in an effort to cut down on underage drinking, and to refuse to sell beer to visibly intoxicated fans.
"This is a series of measures we're taking today," Lurie said. "If this isn't effective, we're going to go a lot further. We have the best fans in America. But we're going to take care of the small minority who make the quality of life lower than it should be."
The last time the Eagles took such drastic action to curb fan behavior was in 1989, after the infamous "Snow Bowl" game against Dallas. That game was played a few days after a big snowstorm, and the city failed to clear the stadium. Fans threw snowballs, iceballs and more onto the field, pelting players, officials, coaches and one another.
Rendell himself got caught up in the fallout from that game when he admitted to a reporter that he had bet another fan $20 that the fan couldn't reach the field with a snowball.
Rendell, who was not mayor at the time, said he had been trying to pacify the fan, who had already thrown several snowballs at other fans.
There were many other, more serious incidents that day, resulting in six arrests and 269 ejections. The Eagles, then owned by Norman Braman, added security and banned beer sales for their last remaining home game of the regular season.