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Police to curb drinking at parade

Complaints from residents spur effort

By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / March 8, 2009
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Boston police will be flooding South Boston for the legendary St. Patrick's Day parade next Sunday, beefing their patrols by up to 200 officers and sending out the gang, horse, and bicycle units in an aggressive attempt to curb public drinking that officials say has grown increasingly out of control.

Police will place two officers outside every liquor store and bar along the parade route, a strategy meant to stop anyone underage or intoxicated from buying alcohol. Bars have been told to close by 7 p.m. and liquor stores by 5 p.m., to help cut the party short. Hosts whose gatherings become too loud or disorderly could face fines of $200 or even jail time. The department has also issued a warning to visiting police officers and firefighters who historically march in the parade and have not been above tippling in public. Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis has sent a letter to their unions asking leaders to tell members that Boston will be cracking down.

Police said the tough tactics are a response to complaints from South Boston residents fed up with public drinking and the department's own realization that last year's show of about 400 officers at the parade was not enough to control an unexpectedly large crowd of revelers, many of whom drank excessively and started fights.

"Last year, people forgot it was a parade about families and kids and thought it was Mardi Gras," said Superintendent Daniel Linskey. "We're not going to let drunken idiots get in the way of people just enjoying their family time."

But for parade-goers like Angela Simino, a 36-year-old deli worker and lifelong South Boston resident, cracking down on drinking is an affront to tradition.

"That's like taking the green out of St. Patrick's Day," she said.

Some who have seen too many people urinate in public and stumble drunkenly in front of children said the extra measures are welcome.

"We're very concerned that breaking the law and becoming intoxicated in a neighborhood with children is seen as fun," said Kay Walsh, project director of South Boston CAN Reduce Underage Drinking, a nonprofit that pushed hard for the increased police presence.

Walsh said a half-million people attended the parade last year, far more than the usual 300,000, and many of them were college students. Police do not release crowd estimates.

Walsh said she was shocked when she saw people drinking hard liquor on the street and sucking alcohol from straws hooked to backpacks usually reserved for water.

Last week, she and others in her group met with police, who told them of their plans to keep the crowds under control.

In addition to the security measures, police said they will enforce a new city ordinance that forbids people from standing on roof decks that have not been approved by city inspectors. And after the parade, the MBTA plans to send a half-dozen buses to the neighborhood to pick up celebrants and take them to the T station.

Walsh said she left that meeting satisfied. "We felt they were addressing it on a much higher level than ever before," she said.

But in South Boston, where many storefronts are decorated with green shamrocks, some rolled their eyes at the police plans.

"There is never that much trouble that you have to make such a big deal out of it," said Gina Magione, a 27-year-old salon worker who stood outside her beauty parlor on East Broadway. Magione was smoking a cigarette with her friend Billy Crehan, a 34-year-old longshoreman.

"Let the kids have fun," she said. "Let people have fun."

But Jack O'Neil, 59, a lifelong South Boston resident and social worker, said he is tired of seeing revelers urinate in front of houses and yards.

"Just having [police] presence here will keep them from drinking in public," he said. "They won't walk down the street holding those paper cups."

Simino, the deli worker, acknowledged some people need supervision. So she plans to spend the parade watching her children, making sure they and their teenage friends are not tempted by alcohol.

"That's why I stay sober," she laughed. "I'm the old lady on the corner with the blanket on her lap."

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.

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