(Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
Boston’s top police official expressed skepticism today that rival gangs were behind the fights that caused authorities to swarm Carson Beach over the Memorial Day weekend, undermining public statements by State Police who had pointed to the feuding groups as the driving force behind the melee.
Commissioner Edward F. Davis said in a telephone interview that Boston police, who were called to South Boston over the long holiday weekend to assist state troopers, believed the altercations were between young teenagers with no gang ties.
‘‘It looked like there were three or four different fights breaking out with a lot of people running to see what was going on,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re looking at the gang angle to see if that was the case but at this point in time we’re questioning that.’’
Boston police initially declined to comment on the confrontations, and had referred questions to State Police.
Davis’s assertion today was a rare example of city police publicly contradicting the conclusions of State Police, who have jurisdiction over the city’s beaches. State Police did not back away from their initial assessment that the fights were sparked by gangs but emphasized that they were only preliminary conclusions from a chaotic scene of hundreds of teenagers on Carson Beach.
They also defended themselves against questions about their tactics, which included using long lines of police to clear hundreds of people, including women with children, from the scene. State Police said they had to use that approach several times throughout the weekend to keep the area safe.
‘‘State Police responded on four consecutive nights to groups of young people anywhere in size from several hundred to over 1,000,’’ David Procopio, spokesman for the State Police, said. ‘‘We moved thousands of people, some of whom were unruly. We arrested a handful of people and nobody got injured. We would consider that to be an example of restraint, of discretion, and of professional policing.’’
In a statement, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said State Police should act more like Boston police when patrolling areas of the city under their jurisdiction.
‘‘I have asked Police Commissioner Davis to work with the State Police in patrolling this area better and with more consistency in our tactics,’’ he said.
Menino was not specific about what tactics concerned him but two city officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the mayor was unsettled by images in the media that showed State Police wearing black gloves and wielding batons as they ordered the crowd to leave.
Boston police, who also carried batons during the incidents, were among four agencies called to help State Police handle the crowds.
On Monday afternoon, State Police said they rushed to Carson Beach, which is located only minutes from their South Boston barracks, for a report of a fight between two rival gangs. When they arrived they said they observed more than 1,000 young people gathered.
No weapons were confiscated over the weekend and there were no serious injuries reported during the flare-ups, which also occurred in the area around Savin Hill, Malibu Beach, and Pleasure Bay.
Five people were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct.
Gang intelligence officers from both agencies were scheduled to meet tonight in the State Police barracks in South Boston and expected to compare information about the city’s gangs, Procopio said.
State Police had said that rival gangs from Dorchester and Mattapan fought on Friday night in the area of the beach and that the Dorchester gang later fought again with a different group.
‘‘That’s the intelligence we had this morning,’’ Procopio said. ‘‘If there are changes to that, I’ll let you know.’’
Boston police said the officers who arrived on scene over the weekend did not recognize any gang members as participants in the fighting, though they could have been at the scene.
Emmett Folgert, executive director of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, said teenagers told each other to meet at the beach using social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.
The fights were actually sparked by girls who had been feuding, Folgert said, an assertion that was backed by several law enforcement officials.
Folgert said he and other community leaders should have told police that large crowds of teenagers would be descending on Carson Beach. In turn, police officials, once they began responding to the fights, should have contacted community leaders who work with the city’s youths, he said.
‘‘There definitely is going to be a new approach,’’ Folgert said. ‘‘People are sitting down and saying we’ve got to do better.’’
But Davis stopped short of criticizing State Police enforcement tactics, saying that it is up to each supervising officer to decide how to handle a crime scene.
‘‘We were in a backup role,’’ he said.
Davis, who spoke with Colonel Marian McGovern, State Police superintendent, said that the agencies plan to conduct joint patrols around Carson Beach. State Police said today that they would be beefing up patrols around the area and working with Boston police to monitor gang intelligence.
‘‘It’s very important that we work closely together to prevent any incidents from occurring,’’ Davis said.
Maria Cramer can be reached at email@example.com.
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