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Crowd control tactics praised and criticized

Boston police overhauled their tactics for controlling jubilant Red Sox fans for the World Series clincher Wednesday night, blocking the devoted from Fenway Park and more quickly and aggressively dispersing crowds.

Although the revelry may have suffered, police yesterday declared their new crowd-control measures a success.

Police said that 63 people were injured. Most injuries were minor, resulting from falls; 22 were taken to hospitals. Police said that 39 people, mostly college students, were arrested and charged with offenses such as disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and resisting arrest, authorities said.

A week after police, surrounded by a mob of riotous Red Sox fans celebrating the American League pennant, fatally injured 21-year-old Victoria Snelgrove after firing pepper-spray pellets, officials executed a far more military-style operation:

Police kept the fans, more than the estimated 70,000 last week, separated into a few large crowds that never merged into one unruly mob.

They deployed marching lines of riot officers, supported by motorcycles and horses, to move crowds away from Fenway and funneled all foot traffic onto major boulevards, so the crowds could be dispersed more effectively. The streets were patrolled by at least 700 officers, a few hundred more than last week. Some were posted on rooftops across from the most raucous crowds and shone spotlights on fans who climbed billboards and lamp poles.

And in trouble spots, police doused crowds with pepper spray and herded them with smoke canisters.

"There were more people this time, but because of the way the crowd was separated, we were managing crowds that were smaller in size," said Superintendent James Claiborne yesterday. "We sat back and evaluated a lot of things and we learned from it."

After Snelgrove's death, all Boston police tactical commanders huddled to plan how to better handle big crowds, Claiborne said.

But the wider use of pepper spray Wednesday night and early yesterday angered many bystanders who were trapped in the churning crowd and overcome by the chemical fumes. The aerosol -- which was sprayed into the air and was less dangerous than the pepper pellets fired by compressed-air rifles used last week -- is made with the pepper derivative oleoresin capsicum. It causes temporary blindness and incapacitates those who are hit. When used in high doses, it can cause serious injury or even death.

George Simon, 33, a marketing manager from Dorchester, arrived on Brookline Avenue around 1 a.m. with his sister, brother-in-law, and some friends, and said he was met almost instantly with a blast of pepper spray to the face.

"My family didn't do anything to deserve getting sprayed in the face with pepper spray," Simon said. "There was no sign, no verbal warning, nothing. We were writhing in pain for an hour and 45 minutes."

His family would have been in the street struggling for air and vision for much longer, Simon said, if a kindly college student hadn't seen them struggling and taken them inside her dorm room for water. Police did nothing to help the family recover, Simon said.

"It was like the storm troopers in 'Empire Strikes Back,' " Simon said. "They just kept yelling, 'Keep moving!' "

Several people who had been sprayed could be seen staggering in the streets around Fenway, unable to speak and see and, in many cases, vomiting. Many said that police did not give enough warning before resorting to force.

But Claiborne said that crowds were warned before the pepper spray was used and that its use was appropriate, though not all fans affected by the spray were being violent.

Other revelers were injured when police used horses and motorcycles to herd crowds. In at least one instance, police aggressively moved people toward pepper spray and smoke from "flash bangs," rounds that make a loud popping noise and flash before bursting into a cloud of smoke, causing some to fall.

Craig Hutchinson, 22, said he was hit over the head with a baton after trying to get to the ambulance that took his friend Russell Mills out of Kenmore Square after he fell and was swept under the panicked crowd.

"It was when the horses came out and he slipped because of the chaos," Hutchinson said. "The crowd started freaking out, and people were trying to get out of the way. Russell fell and got trampled on."

Mills is at Massachusetts General Hospital with a broken back, broken hip, broken wrist, and broken hand, Hutchinson said.

Claiborne defended the police tactics as necessary. Police aren't required to be sure everyone in a crowd hears a warning, he said, as long as a reasonable effort is made to announce the crowd must disperse.

"You're there in a mob," Claiborne said. "If you're at a party screaming and in mosh pits, you have to take some responsibility for being there."

That's a stance not everyone agrees with. "If there are 20 people committing a crime in a crowd of 8,000 people, you can't use force on everyone," said Howard Friedman, a prominent civil rights attorney in Boston. "You've got people in confined space. They can't just leave."

But police weren't taking any chances after last week's tragedy, Claiborne said.

Reflecting on the hundreds of young people who cartwheeled across mosh pits, climbed billboards, or threw Roman candles into dense crowds despite the fact that Snelgrove died just last week in such a mob, Claiborne said: "I don't think the kids learned from it."

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who spent Wednesday night in the police command center, agreed. He backed the police response.

"It's just the tactical decision that they made," he said yesterday. "They said to the kids, 'Hey, we tried to use leniency, but it didn't work.' And then, all the messages that were sent out to them from the Red Sox, myself, the universities, the kids, they just didn't listen. There's no personal responsibility by these kids. Everybody told them, you know, to keep the peace, and they just went out into the street."

The 39 arrested -- 35 of whom were arraigned yesterday and released on bond or on their personal recognizance -- included 21 students from 10 different colleges and universities, including Bentley, Boston University, and Harvard. Only eight people were arrested in last week's celebration.

Among those arrested, the Associated Press reported, were Matthew Westling, 21, a Boston University student and the son of the school's former president, Jon Westling. He was charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace, according to Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley's office.

Many of the young people in Wednesday night's crowd expressed outrage about the law enforcement response and said they blame police, not mobs, for Snelgrove's death.

They barely got close enough to see Fenway Park, much less touch it or climb the Green Monster, thwarted by hundreds of police officers lining the perimeter of the ballpark in full riot gear.

"It's like Kent State," 16-year-old Mike Giacomini said as he fled from police charging toward him on a motorcycle.

"No, it's like Tiananmen Square," said his friend, Lou Rodriguez, as he sprinted alongside.

Mac Daniel, Heather Allen and Marcella Bombardieri of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Suzanne Smalley can be reached at ssmalley@globe.com.

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