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NFTA Police Chief on Bills fans at airport: "we are not the mask police"

Posted at 4:31 PM, Dec 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-20 18:44:51-05

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WKBW) — Thousands of fans greeted the Buffalo Bills at Buffalo Niagara International Airport as the team clinched its first AFC East title in 25 years.

"We were certainly expecting a large group because we know how Bills fans are and we know they're out there to support the team," said NFTA Police Chief George Gast.

Police estimate that 3,000 fans greeted the Bills early Sunday morning, prompting several police agencies along with the NFTA to monitor fans at the airport.

Several fans were photographed without masks at the airport.

7 Eyewitness News asked Chief Gast about how officers would enforce a mask policy.

"It's a tough balance. The vast majority of fans did wear their masks. They were very cooperative," Chief Gast said. "Those who didn't have masks on were asked by the officers to put a mask on, and again they were very cooperative. We're not going to force anybody to put a mask on but we are going to encourage them to do so."

Gast said NFTA officers carried masks on them to distribute them to fans.

"It becomes a very slippery slope for law enforcement. There have been a number of instances around the country where police have gone hands on, for whatever reason, with somebody who doesn't have a mask on, and they've been criticized for that," Gast said when asked about why they don't force people to wear masks. "What are we going to do, are we going to arrest someone for not having a mask on? We're not going down that path.”

Gast says the NFTA will have their standard operating procedure when it comes to policing fans at the airport.

Gast is not ruling out removing people from NFTA property for not wearing masks.

"If it's necessary. But we're not going to be the mask police," Gast said. "We're going to encourage people, but people have a certain amount of responsibility on their own. We'll encourage them to put the mask on, we'll provide them with a mask if they need one, but beyond that we're not going to go hands-on with somebody, nor are we going to arrest someone for not having a mask on. We might ask them to leave, that's correct. But each situation is different.

The police chief ensured that other officers feel safe.

"There's always that situation that could cause an issue, but you have to remember my officers are out in the public all day every day," Gast said. "It does also help significantly that the event was held outside."

Gast said they had no issues with fans at the airport and that everything went smoothly.