Hundreds of Boston police officers, many in riot gear, will be in the streets for the Super Bowl on Feb. 6, an overwhelming show of force meant to prevent a repeat of the rioting by mobs celebrating the New England Patriots championship last year.
Last Super Bowl Sunday only 43 officers were assigned to control crowds, and in the mayhem a 21-year-old man died, hit by an alleged drunk driver near Northeastern University. An internal report later called the Police Department's lack of preparation for the game ''inexcusable."
It is not only the death of James Grabowski last February that haunts city officials. In October, a 21-year-old student celebrating the Red Sox American League pennant victory also died in post-game revelry, hit in the eye by a police crowd-control projectile.
With that backdrop, city officials and university presidents are taking great pains to make sure a Patriots victory on Feb. 6 doesn't come at the price of yet another life.
While police officials declined yesterday to detail their Super Bowl security strategy because it is not final, a high-ranking officer said he believes the plan will be similar to that during the World Series.
When the Red Sox clinched the Series, more than 700 officers, including the entire drug and gang units, were in the streets near Fenway Park and used canisters of pepper spray and water hoses to control the crowds. There were only a few minor injuries.
Police did not use high-velocity pepper pellet guns like the one that killed Emerson College student Victoria Snelgrove a week earlier. The police official said he believes those weapons will not be deployed for the Super Bowl, either.
Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole has issued a directive forbidding most officers from taking the day off.
The effort to prevent post-Super Bowl violence goes well beyond police deployment:
''Last year was a setback in many ways," Northeastern spokesman Fred McGrail said yesterday. ''I think this year can go a long way to overcoming that and I think students feel the same way."
Bill Durkin, president of the Student Government Association at Northeastern, said he is convinced that this year's events will prevent students from taking to the streets.
''The huge prizes and the scale of the event will draw people," Durkin said. ''It's more than just putting the game on the big screen."
McGrail said that in addition to any arrests by police, Northeastern will expel or suspend students who misbehave. He said that students are sometimes more afraid of being suspended than they are of being arrested because a suspension can mean the loss of financial aid.
''I think people outside of the university community don't get how severe that sanction is," McGrail said.
The university suspended or expelled several students after last year's Super Bowl, when Northeastern students and others overturned cars and set fires near the campus.
The effort to control college students is being made in response to intense pressure from city officials, including Menino, who blasted colleges for not controlling students after the Super Bowl and Red Sox victories.
''As he's stated many times previously, it's up to students and other members of the public to be responsible fans in defeat and in victory," Seth Gitell, a spokesman for the mayor, said yesterday. ''Whatever happens on the football field between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, Mayor Menino expects that everyone in our city will behave within the confines of civil society."
Many city officials say tougher legislation is needed. Councilors Michael P. Ross and Jerry P. McDermott proposed a bill last fall that would track where college students are living off campus, in an effort to curb alcohol-fueled disturbances throughout the city's neighborhoods. A watered-down version of the legislation passed, but officials haven't compiled the information yet this semester.
Ross commended BU for its planned events at the school's new Agganis Arena, but said that other universities need to try harder to protect students and residents.
Suzanne Smalley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.