FOXBOROUGH — Gillette Stadium is no airport, but it could soon feel like one, as heightened security upgrades following the Boston Marathon bombings impose restrictions that stop short of having fans remove their shoes.
The new rules being implemented by Foxborough police, in conjunction with the National Football League, now include a ban on backpacks and large purses, in addition to existing bans on items such as coolers and seat cushions.
Only clear plastic, vinyl, or PVC bags that do not exceed 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches — and permissible things that fit in them — will be allowed in the stadium beginning Aug. 16, unless a medical necessity requires a nonconforming bag.
The rules go into effect the day the New England Patriots meet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first preseason home opener.
Foxborough Police Chief Ed O’Leary said authorities had long worried that something dangerous could be brought into Gillette Stadium undetected, just as the Marathon bombers were able to bring explosive devices close to spectators, hidden in backpacks. “Unfortunately, we now have an example close to home,” he said.
‘Our goal is to develop a plan that keeps the safety of the fans and staff in the forefront, but still ensures an enjoyable experience. . . . [Tailgaters] should not expect to get to their seats as soon as others who came in an hour prior to the event.’
During the April 15 race, the two homemade bombs were detonated near the Boylston Street finish line, killing three bystanders and injuring scores more, many of them seriously. Authorities said the bombs were set off by two brothers from Chechnya living in Massachusetts. One of the suspects was subsequently killed during a confrontation with police, while his younger brother is in federal custody facing charges that include using weapons of mass destruction.
Officials in Foxborough were already talking about tightening security measures at Gillette Stadium when the bomb attack occurred, and the issue took top priority afterward.
“It’s always been a concern that something could happen at Gillette,” whether it be the work of “terrorists” or just someone going “off the wall,” selectmen chairman Mark Sullivan said.
“I’m glad we are being proactive about it,’’ he said, crediting town police, stadium owner Robert Kraft, and the NFL. “You can’t stop it, but you can work to avoid it.”
O’Leary is coordinating efforts with the State Police, Team Opps (Kraft’s security force), and his own department in a collaborative effort that he says also relies on intelligence information from the FBI.
“Our goal is to develop a plan that keeps the safety of the fans and staff in the forefront, but still ensures an enjoyable experience,’’ O’Leary said.
Besides the overall security plan, he said measures are being tailored to individual events at the popular Route 1 venue, which can hold close to 60,000 fans, such as a concert that draws thousands of teens, like the upcoming Taylor Swift event, or the 2009 visit of the Dalai Lama.
O’Leary would not disclose details of other planned security measures, but said tailgaters, for example, who hold out in the parking lot until just minutes before kickoff on game days – and then expect to walk right in — might want to adjust their thinking.
“They should not expect to get to their seats as soon as others who came in an hour prior to the event,’’ O’Leary said.
NFL owners approved recommendations from a league task force on stadium security in May at the same time members of the Foxborough Stadium Advisory Committee discussed what it called “increased terrorist acts.”
In a memo to selectmen at the time, the committee’s chairman, George Bell, said O’Leary is working closely with stadium security manager Mark Briggs to upgrade the personal-search process at Gillette; enhance bag checks to include scanning; and adjust security checkpoint locations at the stadium the NFL has recognized as being the most consistently secure of all its 31 sites.
The league has suggested that stadium owners establish buffer areas outside the gates where police and other security personnel can perform checks for banned items and bags. Suggestions include a recommendation that clear bags be provided to those who otherwise would be denied entry.
Patriots spokesman Stacey James said a design of such a bag is underway. James also declined to divulge other specifics of the security plan, which he said is not made public “for obvious reasons.
“The safety of our patrons at Gillette Stadium has always been and will continue to be of paramount importance to our operation,’’ James said. “To ensure their safety, we are in constant communication with local, state, and federal agencies to formulate and execute our security plans.”
O’Leary is encouraging fans to check the list of prohibited items, which are detailed on the back of individual tickets, as well as to familiarize themselves with newly banned items, and heed notices that will also be posted as reminders of the new no-bag policy in parking lots.
That will prevent ticket-holders from having to trudge all the way to the gates with a bunch of items they can’t bring into the facility, he said.
In a statement, league officials said new restrictions should prove to be more convenient for fans, not less, a concept they hope will be embraced and appreciated.
“Our fans deserve to be in a safe and secure environment, and public safety is our top priority,” said Jeffrey Miller, NFL vice president and chief security officer.
Miller said the bag ban will make security checks “much more efficient and effective, and we will be able to deliver a better and quicker experience at the gates and also provide a safer environment.” While there is no estimate yet of how the time required might change, officials in Foxborough say the lines are already long and patrons should be prepared to see longer ones.
Weymouth resident Kevin Kelly, a diehard football fan and season ticket-holder for three decades who says he and his family brave all kinds of weather to attend Patriots home games, as well as away games around the country, is not sure the new rule will ease entry times.
Kelly, 55, said he usually brings a small backpack that holds necessities like a rain jacket, a sweatshirt, hats, or extra gloves, but now with the bag ban that option is off the table.
”That’s a concern,’’ he said. If officials want to shorten lengthy queues and accommodate fans they should open points of entry to the stadium that are normally closed, like the gates near the pro shop, he said.
“It’s unfortunate for people trying to go in and enjoy a nice day,” he said.
Kelly said he understands the need for security; in fact, he was one of thousands of Boston Marathon runners completing the 26-mile course the day the bombs exploded.
“It’s a hard balance,’’ he said. “It’s the same at the airport. You have to give yourself enough time, I guess, because anything can happen, anywhere.”
He said Gillette Stadium could take a lesson from Fenway Park, which has pulled the security perimeters back so that fans can pass through security checks, hand in their tickets, and then walk into the ball park and to their seats by any route they choose. At Gillette, fans are herded through security and then the lines snake through the stadium’s gates, where only then – once they are through – can they go find their seats, he said.
“I haven’t made a kickoff in 35 years,” he said. “I can’t stand the lines before the game as it is.”
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at email@example.com.