The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

04 February 2005

MA: Commissioner O'Toole Undermines Police

Another example of the same dumb decisions being made on opposite ends of I-90: Boston and Seattle.

Seattle residents still remember clearly what happened when police were second-guessed by higher-ups about what kind of force to apply and the appropriate amount of crowd intervention in the now-infamous Mardi Gras riot in the city's Pioneer Square district several years ago. As a result, a young man was killed right in front of the crowd, live on camera, while police stood and watched from a distance.

After the Red Sox won the pennant last fall, college students and others got out of hand around the ballpark, resulting in the death of a young woman after an officer inaccurately discharged a crowd control weapon.

Not wanting a repeat if the Patriots win the Superbowl on Sunday, Boston Commissioner O'Toole has implemented a foolish policy which undermines the ability of officers to quickly react if things turn ugly. Instead they will be second-guessed at every turn.

These unusual written rules of engagement make things that much more difficult for Boston cops during one of their most stressful circumstances. I have a bad feeling of how this may turn out, officers have enough to worry about without O'Toole mucking things up in advance.

These rules are more likely to promote a riot rather than suppress one.

(Boston Globe-Suzanne Smalley)

Four days before the Super Bowl, Boston Police Department leaders sought yesterday to quell some officers' concerns over a plan requiring on-scene commanders trying to control postgame crowds to receive permission from headquarters before using the most serious weapons.

A draft operational plan for game day Sunday includes nearly two pages detailing ''rules of engagement" on using force against crowds. It requires commanding officers in the field to obtain permission from superiors before dispersing crowds; to give crowds a warning and sufficient time to disperse; and to get written authorization from one of two top officials before using tear gas and longer-range weapons such as guns that fire rubber bullets. The top field commander, on his own authority, could use those weapons to protect officers and people from serious attack.

Still, in a meeting yesterday, some field officers expressed worries that their hands might be tied in what could be a fast-changing situation, said a police official briefed on the meeting. The official and two other high-ranking police officers said it is unusual for the rules of engagement to be distributed in writing.

But Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole said that the rules are not new, that they reflect department policy, and that they were in place for the Democratic National Convention and other events. She said some officers might have been confused because the rules were written down and distributed in advance of the game. The rules were not included in the written operational plans for the game when the Red Sox clinched the pennant or for the World Series.


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