LINCOLN — Thanks to beefed-up security measures, the Mixed Martial Arts fights held at the Twin River Event Center on Friday night remained in the ring, and the audience that watched did only that.
That's just one reason why the Town Council, which also acts as the Board of License Commissioners, voted unanimously (5-0) to accept a report regarding increased security during such events on Tuesday night. Those new standards were provided by Twin River representatives and Police Chief Brian Sullivan during a public hearing held at Council Chambers.
Back on June 10, a physical altercation occurred inside the ring between two opposing MMA fighters and their camps, and it resulted in Twin River adding two security officers and one Lincoln Police uniformed officer.
Later, during another such MMA card on Sept. 9, police were forced to arrest five attendees for disorderly conduct and associated counts, and Town Council member John Flynn later deemed the incident a “brawl” inside the Event Center.
After that happening, Twin River chose to increase its presence with five more security officers, as well as lighting and sound modifications and doing away with hard liquor drink sampling.
Casino representatives – including attorney Mark Russo, Director of Public & Community Affairs Kim Ward and Vice President Craig Sculos – outlined their plan to squelch behavioral issues during MMA events at a work session with board members on Oct. 17.
Still concerned about the possibility of another outbreak occurring, Flynn called for a public hearing so he and other board members could hear not just from Twin River officials but also police who worked those nights.
After Sullivan and Russo explained those measures, the council seemed satisfied by the most recent results.
“Friday night's event went off without a hitch,” Russo stated after the hearing, and in regard to the MMA card on Nov. 18. “I think the security protocol is effective, and that what happened on Sept. 9 was an aberration, that we just had three attendees who just wanted to be rowdy.
“Now, with that increased presence, people know they can't act that way,” he added. “The first workshop we had went well, and those measures will remain the same for future MMA events held at Twin River.”
Russo, Ward, Security Director Steve Lefebvre and Food & Beverage Director Jim Narcisi attended the hearing, and Russo explained he agreed with the chief – that communication between police and Twin River representatives was key.
“We want to continue to communicate with the town, and the workshops, I think, are a great idea,” he said. “If you have a question, let us know and we'll respond to it.”
Russo explained the first MMA event at the casino had been held in September 2010, and like events were held in February and April of this year without incident. At that point, Twin River supplied 15 security officers, six LPD officers and four security supervisors for the Event Center, which holds about 1,600 patrons and, perhaps, another 100 tickets sold for standing room-only.
When the melee broke out on June 10, all LPD officers who were working the 4 p.m.-midnight shift, in addition to two State Police troopers – had to report to Twin River to subdue unruly audience members.
At the work session on Oct. 17, Russo indicated the establishment, after meeting with Sullivan, had changed the security coverage to 20 security officers, six security supervisors and seven LPD officers.
It also said it would deliver 50-percent more lighting to the Event Center, and a reduction in sound (as music and the like could entice the crowd).
Sullivan told the Board of License Commissioners that the bulge in security officers, several with their backs to the ring so they could watch patrons, seemed to work well Friday night.
“I testified that we didn't have any issues at all,” Sullivan noted. “It started at about 7 p.m. and ended shortly after 11 p.m.; I didn't see any concerns or issues arise. That's just the way we as police want it, and I'm sure the facility representatives and promoters want it, too.
“You know, I think even the competitors want it that way because they would certainly like the opportunity to return to such a venue,” he added. “I'm pleased with the changes, especially the communication aspect of it. If there's something we feel we need in the future regarding public safety, we know Twin River will respond to it.
“I noticed the difference in the lighting and sound levels. Unfortunately, I wasn't there when there was the big issue in September, but the collaboration we've had between police and the casino, right now, appears to be successful.
“There was always collaboration in the past, but the fact it's more detailed, and that we're all looking at this from different angles, it appears to me it made a difference” Friday night.
Council Vice President James Jahnz (who represents District 4/Albion and a section of Lime Rock) mentioned he thought it was important that security procedures be continuously discussed and addressed.
“One thing that seems to be clear, it's not a one-size-fits-all plan,” he offered. “I certainly have all the confidence in the world in Chief Sullivan to appropriately address any or all concerns. Like I said during the meeting, it's important to be vigilant with these types of events. It seems to be a function of this kind of event rather than the security at Twin River.”