Bengals Nix Security Pat-Downs at Stadium after County Objects

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals scrapped plans to have security guards give pat-downs to fans attending Sunday's game against the Houston Texans when local officials refused to foot the bill.

The team, which had hired a private security firm to conduct the searches at the entrances to Paul Brown Stadium, announced Wednesday it would follow a National Football League mandate to perform the searches.

But the Bengals pulled back Friday when Hamilton County commissioners complained that the team billed taxpayers $60,000 for the additional security. The Bengals lease the county-owned stadium.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said the pat-downs could be construed as unlawful if they're taxpayer-funded.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he believes Cincinnati is the only team that won't perform the searches this weekend. Teams were given flexibility in implementing the security measure, he said.

Bengals executive Troy Blackburn said the team will meet with NFL officials and local authorities to resolve the issue of who pays for the security guards. Searches could start at the next home game, Oct. 23, against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Deters said that's fine, as long as no county money is used to pay for them.

"A private entity can do whatever they want," Deters said. "Anybody who doesn't like it, doesn't have to buy a ticket."

The dispute is the latest episode in an ongoing battle between the Bengals and Hamilton County over who pays for services at the stadium, which opened in 2000. Taxpayers approved a one-half cent surtax to finance the $450 million stadium, but the team negotiated control of the stadium for its games.

Hamilton County is suing the Bengals in federal court, accusing the team and the NFL of using its monopoly power to force Hamilton County to sign a bad lease to keep the franchise in the city.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Wednesday the league's security mandate was not the result of a specific threat, "but rather an effort to have the additional security for NFL fans at games that hand searches provide."

Several teams were using the procedure prior to the league's directive, Tagliabue said. The searches also were implemented for playoff games last season, and have been in effect for the Super Bowl since 2002.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said taxpayers shouldn't be forced to pay for the NFL's policy.

"If there was a security threat that necessitated a search of every person ... who entered that stadium, then I would expect to hear that from our public officials and that they would be the ones doing it," Portune said.

The searches would have been on the back and sides of the upper torso only, said Bob Bedinghaus, director of development for the Bengals.

Pat-down check points - with male security personnel handling duties on males and female personnel doing the searches on female fans - would have opened at 9 a.m. at normal contraband checkpoints already located around the stadium as fans enter the main plaza area - not the gates. Gates to enter the stadium usually open 90 minutes before kickoff.

Tino D. Thomas, 59, a Bengals season ticket-holder from Springfield Township, said the plan would have created havoc because parking-lot tailgaters go into the stadium at the last possible minute before kickoff.

(c) 2005 Associated Press