Postgame staffing occupies officials
Levels said higher than cited in Globe
By Andrea Estes, Globe Staff, 2/5/2004
Boston city councilors called yesterday for hearings with police, fire, and university officials in the wake of Sunday's rioting, while police defended their crowd-control efforts after the Super Bowl.
Amid questions about the city's readiness for victory celebrations, which turned violent and left one man dead and another seriously injured,
Mayor Thomas M. Menino said that enough officers were on the street. But he conceded the city could "do a better job."
"We were in a tough position," Menino said. "If you went hard, it would have been police brutality. Since we didn't quell the thing, we're being criticized for being soft."
Citing police deployment records, the Globe reported yesterday that 43 officers had been assigned to crowd control the night of the Super Bowl. Menino and police officials said that number didn't include about 100 additional officers who were drawn from special units. According to the deployment plan, only 12 officers were assigned to Kenmore Square and the Fenway, where two mobs of revelers, of some 5,000 fans each, swarmed the streets. The records also show that 37 motorcycle police were assigned to crowd control, and police officials yesterday said most of them were deployed in Kenmore Square, along with eight members of the gang unit. About 35 officers from the department's drug control unit were sent to the Symphony Road area, officials said. Station houses were staffed at a higher level than they would be on a normal Sunday, though those officers were not necessarily directly involved with crowd control.
Menino said that, in all, 148 extra officers were staffed Sunday. Police spokeswoman Mariellen Burns said the total was 163 officers.
"This is triple the number we had two years ago," when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, Menino said. "Could we do a better job? We can." He said he will meet with the heads of discipline and security for area colleges within the next 10 days and go over their plans. "Why did some universities have no problems and some had a lot?" he said. "I'm going to sit with them -- no more excuses."
The police presence Sunday night did not seem to match the deployment during last October's playoff series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Though city officials wouldn't release numbers from October, Paul F. Evans, then commissioner, said at the time that nearly all of the city's sworn officers would be in uniform during the playoff games, many of them in riot gear. He promised then to move aggressively to arrest disruptive fans, and there was no serious unrest.
Even with a higher-than-reported police presence in the Kenmore Square area, some officers who worked there and in the Fenway said the staffing levels were too low to handle the large crowds.
"What they're not telling you is the group was broken into squads and deployed at various intersections outside of earshot and eyeshot of each other," said one member of the drug control unit in the Symphony Road area. "They weren't called back en masse until around 12:30 [a.m.]. I've been with guys who don't get scared easy -- they said it was the most chaotic thing they ever saw. The only thing that made it worse was the lack of response from supervisors. I had supervisors tell me it was one of the most embarrassing things they ever saw."
City officials said they also sent four special units, called emergency deployment teams, to the scene of the rioting. Each station house designates three officers per shift as its emergency deployment team, which can respond to crises in riot gear.
One emergency deployment officer, who was sent to Hemenway Street, said he was absolutely sure that if the department had had more officers assigned to crowd control or had dispatched every emergency deployment team as soon as there were signs of trouble, rioting could have been prevented.
"You knew it was going to break out; everybody knew," said the veteran officer, who works in Jamaica Plain. "I got over there around 11:50, and there was a fire on Hemenway Street and a large crowd. We lined up and started moving the crowd down the street, but we couldn't stop the kids from throwing stuff into the fire. The Fire Department sprayed the kids, but they loved it and jumped into the water." When they learned that a car had struck and killed one man and injured others, he said, he and his fellow officers had to do three jobs at once: control the crowd, tend to victims, and protect a crime scene."I've never seen anything as senseless, and I've been a police officer for years," he said. "I went home and spoke to my wife and bawled my eyes out. I didn't even know who the victim was. All I knew was that he got killed because the Patriots won the Super Bowl." Said Councilor Paul J. Scapicchio: "Could you imagine what would happen if the Red Sox won the World Series? It would be bedlam. How many people would die if the Red Sox won?"
A crowd control specialist said that even 150 officers probably were not enough to handle Sunday night's outbreaks in Boston. To prevent rioting, police must be present in force, the specialist said.
"Why only 100, or 140?" said Paul Wertheimer of Crowd Management Strategies, a Chicago consulting firm. "Even if only 5 or 10 percent of the crowd are troublemakers, there's too much chaos once it begins, and crowds tend to turn on police. A show of force in key places intimidates people from taking the first step." Councilor at Large Maura A. Hennigan said she heard a variety of numbers on police deployment levels, but said that even the city's largest figure was still too low.Pointing out that Boston police will play a major role in planning and executing security for the Democratic National Convention in July, Hennigan said,"This was almost like a dress rehearsal for how we handle security and large events, and look what happened. I just can't even begin to imagine what they were thinking." Instead of blaming colleges and liquor stores, as Menino and some councilors have done in the wake of the rioting, she said, the city has to take a hard look at its response Sunday.
"All of these things could play some role," she said. "But is this the reason those events occurred? No. It's because we didn't have a police presence on the street to send a message and act as a deterrent."
Rick Klein of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Kevin Joy contributed to this report.
? Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.