Maura In The News

Hussey absent during rioting
Acting police head in touch by phone
By Andrea Estes, Globe Staff, 2/6/2004

On the night that Super Bowl victory celebrations turned violent and huge crowds of revelers overwhelmed police, Acting Police Commissioner James M. Hussey did not come to work, but conferred with his command staff by telephone after watching the game on television "with family or friends," police spokeswoman Mariellen Burns said yesterday.

Even after rioting began and a man was killed, Hussey elected to stay in touch only by phone, Burns said. He arrived at his office the next morning an hour or two before a 6 a.m. news conference, she said.

Hussey did not respond to requests for an interview. Burns said he stayed in close contact with the command staff by phone and was kept abreast of what was happening throughout the night.

But while city and police officials defended Hussey's decision to remain away, critics said he should have been at the office, or even at the scene.

"We saw him at the State of the City address. We saw him at the Patriots parade. No one saw him Sunday night," said Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association. "Given the recent history of these events, where else should the commissioner have been Sunday night?"

The fact that Hussey was not at work became public as Mayor Thomas M. Menino was set to appoint a permanent police commissioner, possibly tomorrow, according to a City Hall source who has spoken with people involved in the selection process. Several finalists were being interviewed yesterday and today by the mayor at the Parkman House, the source said, and Hussey is one of them.

With questions swirling about police handling of Sunday night's post-game celebrations, Menino wants to act quickly to name a new commissioner to defuse the controversy, the source said. One man was killed and another seriously injured when an SUV driver, allegedly drunk, drove into a crowd on Symphony Road in the Fenway. Menino delayed a Florida vacation so he could focus on choosing a commissioner, the source said.

Other candidates include former state public safety secretary Kathleen O'Toole, Police Superintendent Edward F. Davis of Lowell, and Captain James M. Claiborne and Superintendent Robert Dunford of Boston police.

City and police officials defended Hussey's decision not to be at work Sunday night and would not disclose where he was.

"I'm not going to get into where he physically was Sunday night," Burns said. "But he was on the phone with the incident commander and others involved out there Sunday night. I don't know where he was . . . He was not working Sunday night. There were no issues during the Super Bowl. He was watching it with his friends or family or whoever."

Menino said there was no need for Hussey to go to headquarters.

"That's not the way the command staff works," Menino said. "He was following procedures. It's left to their discretion."

At a press conference earlier in the week, when asked whether he was working Sunday night, Hussey said, "I was, yeah, on and off, all night long." Menino said at the press conference that he had spoken with Hussey "four or five times" Sunday night. Yesterday, the mayor said he spoke to him, but that it was primarily an aide, Michael Kineavy, who was "talking to Hussey."

Reached yesterday, William Bratton, a former Boston police commissioner who is police chief in Los Angeles, also said Hussey did not need to be at work.

"The fact that he had a bunch of nitwits running amok in the streets doesn't necessarily require the commissioner be present," he said. "They have people in charge of the city at all times. It's an operations issue, rather than an issue for the commissioner himself."

But critics in Boston said the size of the crowds and the fact that police were quickly overwhelmed in some areas should have prompted Hussey to show up.

"How can you blame the Sunday liquor sales and things like that when you don't have the head of the Police Department in a hands-on situation and the poor police are out there in fear of their lives because they're understaffed?" said Councilor at Large Maura A. Hennigan. "It's so devastating. No one will ever know what could have been prevented. But we were not ready."

? Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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