MANSFIELD — After two men died of apparent drug overdoses at a concert late last month and scores were taken into custody for drunkenness at another this week, town officials here say the shows at the Comcast Center are severely straining emergency resources with increasingly unruly crowds.
“It is evident the staffing levels, while sufficient for the type of crowd dynamics 10 or even five years ago, is not sufficient for the crowd activity exhibited this season,” Neal Boldrighini, Mansfield’s fire chief, wrote in a report on the response to the first concert, an all-day festival July 26.
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. Authorities say drug and alcohol use was rampant at the show, and 19 other people were hospitalized for drug-related problems. Some concertgoers took powerful combinations of ecstasy, PCP, and marijuana, authorities said.
Less than a week later, police arrested 35 people at a hip-hop show Wednesday and took scores more into protective custody for drunkenness.
“The bulk of those arrests were for underage drinking,” said Arthur O’Neill, police chief in Mansfield, a suburb about 30 miles south of Boston. “We’ve got a god-awful problem with it.”
Many teenagers were drinking mixed drinks from soda and Gatorade bottles, and some were dangerously drunk, O’Neill said. Emergency crews took a number of concertgoers to the hospital for intoxication. Police also cited nine people for marijuana possession.
About 11,000 people attended the show, which featured rappers Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller. The Comcast Center is owned by concert giant Live Nation, whose representatives could not be reached for comment this week.
O’Neill said almost three dozen police officers worked the concert, a larger contingent than usual, but heavy drinking was nonetheless pervasive.
In an interview, he said he doubted that tighter security would make much of a difference and urged parents to exert their influence.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can already,” he said. “As much as I’d like to, I can’t check every bottle. It’s time for the parents to step up and be aware what their kids are doing.”
O’Neill said that while the number of arrests at concerts has held steady in recent years, the level of drunkenness has intensified, with more teenagers and young adults guzzling drinks with high alcohol content.
“They aren’t drinking beer,” he said.
The scope of the drinking and drug use is placing a heavy demand on law enforcement and emergency responders, authorities say. At last week’s concert, emergency crews were “extremely busy with heavy drug and alcohol abuse,” wrote Boldrighini, and had to pull a number of concertgoers from “at times hostile crowds.”
In one instance, four responders were needed to remove one patient, described as “heavily combative with altered level of consciousness.”
At least twice during the evening, the concert monopolized the department, leaving no personnel to respond to other incidents in town.
“The system, while not responsible for the actions of the crowd, must see change to better and more safely handle the hazards to both the patients and public safety personnel associated with the level of alcohol and drug consumption found at these concerts,” the chief wrote.
The Globe obtained the report from the town manager’s office through a public records request.
Following last week’s deaths, which put security at the venue under heightened scrutiny, Selectman George Dentino called on the operators of the venue to beef up safety measures. He said the center should consider adding more security guards, conducting random drug searches, and bringing in drug-sniffing dogs.
“We’re never going to eliminate drug use, but I think we can deter people,” Dentino said. The town has licensing authority for the amphitheater, giving it some oversight, he said.
Dentino said he has proposed additional security to Live Nation officials before, but said the measures were rejected as too cumbersome and expensive.
O’Neill, the police chief, said he believes that security is tight enough already and that Comcast Center staff are highly concerned about the recent problems.
“They are honestly trying to run a good house down there,” he said.
The scope of drinking and drug use, he said, makes it impossible to prevent all violations.
“You can only go so far,” he said. “Drugs can easily be hidden. I could have an army down there, but I’d be lying if I said it would make a big difference.”
Other town leaders agreed that tighter security cannot overcome poor judgment.
“I don’t think Mansfield is going to cure society’s evils,” said Selectman Jess Aptowitz. “Whatever your age, you need to take responsibility for your actions. That’s the crux of this.”
But a number of industry specialists criticized the amphitheater’s security as second-rate.
“What happened there is to nobody’s surprise,” said Tim Mazzie, owner of RSIG Security in Framingham. “They have minimal staff, and they aren’t properly trained.”
The recent incidents, Mazzie said, were examples of what he called systemic problems with Live Nation’s in-house security, Aegis Protection Group.
“They aren’t going to have any results until they take it seriously,” he said. “They aren’t properly trained on how to handle these kind of shows.”
Aegis declined comment this week.
Mazzie, whose firm provides consulting and security services, said he deploys plainclothes security guards to determine who is distributing drugs, and staff are trained to notice intoxicated people as they enter the show. “If you do it right, you can catch some of the stuff before it gets inside,” he said.
Other specialists declined to address Comcast’s security directly, but said that well-trained security firms can sharply reduce problems.
“The bottom line is you get what you pay for,” said Ron Greco, director of operations for Bay Colony Investigators, a security firm in Wayland. “It’s pretty simple.”
At a heavy metal concert Friday, fans arrived early to tailgate in the parking lot, with many drinking beer under a blazing sun. Fans said they had heard about the recent incidents, but said they expected this would be a much mellower crowd.
“We’re too old for all that,” said one middle-aged fan with a chuckle as he cracked open a can of beer from a cooler packed with ice.
“Just leave the tailgates alone,” said another.
But as the group looked on, a security officer zipped by in a golf cart carrying two teenage girls.
The girl in the back yelled at the driver, saying she was fine and had not been drinking. The girl in the front, her eyes heavy and shoulders slumped, appeared to be struggling to stay awake. As her friend yelled and fans around her partied to the sounds of late ‘80s rock, she leaned her head back and closed her eyes.