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Boston ready for postgame reaction

Colleges, bars join effort to keep students in check

Revelers celebrated around a bonfire in Kenmore Square after the Patriots' Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers in February 2004. Revelers celebrated around a bonfire in Kenmore Square after the Patriots' Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers in February 2004. (THE BOSTON GLOBE/FILE)
Email|Print| Text size + By Donovan Slack
Globe Staff / February 2, 2008

It is becoming almost routine: the parking restrictions, the street closings, the beefed -up police presence. The city once again rolled out its championship-game security plans yesterday, complete with stern warnings against postgame mayhem, as New England prepares for a sixth major sports championship game in as many years.

College and university officials are hosting alcohol-free celebrations on campuses. Bars are pledging to make extra efforts to avoid over-serving patrons. Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the city will not tolerate drunken destruction.

"We are all very excited that the New England Patriots are playing in Super Bowl XLII and battling for an unprecedented 19-0 season, but public safety remains our number one priority," Menino said at a press conference.

The city has avoided tragedy associated with championship sporting events in the last several years, but it hasn't always been so. Since the death of two young people during celebrations in 2004, city officials say they have learned a lot about crowd control. And, some say, fans may have even learned to celebrate more responsibly.

"Maybe as a Bostonian we're getting used to this," said Austin O'Connor, chief operating officer of the Briar Group, which owns several bars in the city.

Menino says he will never forget the first death in February 2004. He was sitting in a booth at an International House of Pancakes in Houston when the call came: revelers celebrating the Patriots Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers had spiraled out of control, and someone had died. A drunken driver plowing through a crowd on Symphony Road had killed 21-year-old James Grabowsky.

The acting police commissioner at the time, James M. Hussey, was off duty, watching the game with family and friends. His deployment plan was thin and inadequate, city officials later admitted.

"At that time, I think it was done on the back of an envelope," Menino said yesterday.

Eight months later, there was a new police commissioner, Kathleen M. O'Toole. She was on duty Oct. 21, monitoring celebrations after the Red Sox beat the New York Yankees to win the American League pennant.

But again, crowd control went awry. Police trying to clear Lansdowne Street next to Fenway Park accidentally killed Emerson college student Victoria Snelgrove, 21, with a pepper-pellet gun. The city later paid the largest wrongful death settlement in its history, $5.1 million, to Snelgrove's family.

Since her death, the city has regularly called meetings with college and university offcials to urge them to severely punish students caught being unruly, including overturning cars and setting fires on city streets.

The Boston Licensing Board and the Mayor's Office of Consumer Affairs & Licensing has put bars and restaurants on notice about over-serving and overcrowding during games. The city has randomly dispatched inspectors to make sure they are in compliance.

And the Police Department now deploys maximum manpower during major championship games. It has adopted new strategies, such as keeping revelers separated with columns of riot police so they can't gather in crowds thousands strong.

"From the mechanics of running a big event, we're getting better at crowd control," Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said.

Tomorrow's Super Bowl between the Patriots and the New York Giants is scheduled to kick off at 6:17 p.m. EST.

Security measures will begin at 9 a.m., with parking restrictions in Brighton and the Fenway, city officials said. Signs have been posted on the affected streets, and cars found in violation will be ordered towed.

Davis said he has asked for help from the State Police and departments in neighboring cities and towns.

Many local colleges and universities are hosting on-campus events to prevent students from flooding the streets and wreaking havoc, including Boston College, Boston University, Emerson College, and Northeastern University.

Suffolk University officials have a form letter they send to students before any big game, letting them know about campus events and warning of disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion, for misbehaving.

"We all get better at this with each celebration," said John Nucci, Suffolk vice president for government and community affairs. "We're keeping this letter on file for the Celtics in June."

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.

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