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Police gird for crowds if Celts win

Hub force hopes to prevent repeat of past troubles

In 2004, after the Red Sox beat the Yankees to capture the American League crown, Boston police stood ready for crowds of celebrating fans to descend on Kenmore Square. In 2004, after the Red Sox beat the Yankees to capture the American League crown, Boston police stood ready for crowds of celebrating fans to descend on Kenmore Square. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff/ File)
By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / June 15, 2010

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Boston police, mindful that over the last six years three people have died on the city’s streets while celebrating major sporting events, are preparing a massive show of force during tonight’s NBA Finals game between the Celtics and the Lakers.

The game — the sixth in a best-of-seven game series that Boston now leads 3-2 — takes place in Los Angeles, but Boston police are taking no chances. They are ordering hundreds of officers — from the city and surrounding communities — to flood the streets around Fenway Park and the TD Garden, areas packed with sports bars that have in the past attracted large crowds during out-of-town championship games.

“We don’t anticipate any problems; we believe everybody will celebrate reasonably,’’ Police Superintendent William Evans said in an interview. However, he said, “We don’t want anyone hurt. We don’t want anyone’s property vandalized. So we’d rather be safe than sorry.’’

The show of force will be familiar to sports fans. The city’s teams have been racking up titles — since 2002, three Super Bowl wins for the Patriots, two World Series championships for the Red Sox, one NBA crown for the Celtics.

But the accompanying celebrations have strained police resources and have led to multiple tragedies, most recently in 2008, when David Woodman, a 22-year-old Emmanuel College student, stopped breathing after a confrontation with police after the Celtics victory over the Lakers.

In 2004, a 21-year-old man was killed by a drunk driver during rioting after the Super Bowl. And later that year, police fired pepper pellets into a crowd celebrating a Red Sox victory; Emerson College student Victoria Snelgrove was struck and killed.

Police were criticized in all three instances, and in the Snelgrove case, the city paid $5 million to settle a civil lawsuit brought by her family.

Tonight, State Police and officers from other cities and towns will be joining Boston police as they monitor the streets around Fenway and the Garden. The streets will be closed to people and cars at some point, police said.

People hoping to get inside bars around both sports venues will be barred as the game progresses, Evans said. In the Fenway, pedestrian access will be blocked on Yawkey Way, parts of Van Ness Street, and Brookline Avenue from Kenmore Square to the Landmark Center on Park Drive, Evans said. And near the Garden, police plan to close the streets immediately around the arena, including New Chardon, Friend, Portland, Canal, and Lancaster streets, he said.

Evans said police have not yet determined at what time they will close off streets.

MBTA stations near the venues will remain open, according to Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Police declined to specify exactly how many officers will be patrolling tonight, but all off-duty officers who are not on leave or vacation have been ordered to work overtime shifts to patrol celebration hot spots.

There will be no officers on horseback, despite the success of that tactic in previous years, because the mounted unit has been disbanded.

Evans said police will be able to handle any crowds.

“We’ve had all our officers in for the last several weeks for crowd control training,’’ he said. “We’re well trained at moving crowds, so I don’t see the lack of horses making that big a difference for us.’’

Evans said if the Celtics lose tonight, police will be back out in force on Thursday night, when the seventh and final game would be played in Los Angeles.

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

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