Different official to head weekend crowd control
The deputy police superintendent who headed crowd-control efforts after the riotous celebration that left a 21-year-old student dead will not be in command for the first two games of the World Series this weekend, Boston police plans show.
Robert E. O'Toole Jr., who handled security at Fenway Park and Kenmore Square for Game Seven of the Red Sox-Yankees series, is not listed on a Boston Police Department Bureau of Field Services operational plan obtained by the Globe.
Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole denied that he was being removed as a result of the death. ''He is involved in the planning process," she said.
Police Superintendent James M. Claiborne said Robert O'Toole did not work for part of the playoff series against the Yankees and that it was not uncommon for commanders to rotate duties.
When the Red Sox last made the World Series in 1986, O'Toole was a deputy superintendent in charge of special operations who was caught on videotape by a television news crew slapping a fan during a celebration. He was demoted in 1987 after complaints by the police union that he was being unfairly protected by the former police commissioner, who had promoted him.
Robert O'Toole could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The celebration outside Fenway Park turned tragic early Thursday when police fired pepper pellets at a rowdy crowd. Victoria Snelgrove, an Emerson College journalism student, was struck in the eye and killed.
The police commissioner said the type of weapon that fired the fatal shot was an FN303, a compressed-air gun that fires pellets filled with pepper powder. It was the first time Boston police had used the weapons since buying them for this summer's Democratic National Convention. State Police also deployed the guns at other locations throughout the state Wednesday night.
A spokesman for the weapon's manufacturer, FN Herstal, confirmed yesterday that his firm sold the Boston Police pepper weapon technology for the convention security effort. However, Richard DeMilt would not comment on Snelgrove's death, saying, ''We have not been notified by any officials from Boston police about what role our weapons played."
Kathleen O'Toole said that Robert O'Toole and Superintendent Robert Dunford, who headed the convention security effort, made the decision to purchase the weapons.
''Bob Dunford traveled to Northern Ireland to explore different options for crowd control," she said. ''We went from plastic bullets, which could be damaging, to these projectiles."
In the past, police might have used other weapons, such as batons and beanbags, to control disorders. But before the convention, which was expected to draw massive crowds of protesters, they invested in weapons involving pepper powder. Convention expense reports obtained by the Globe show that police officials also purchased PepperBall Technologies Inc. riot gear, pepper grenades, and stinger rubber balls.
''We could have saturated with gas, which could have incited a riot," O'Toole said. ''Dogs incite riots, and civil libertarians hate the dogs."
The commissioner also said that the few officers who handle such weapons are highly trained. ''We don't issue these things to everybody," she said.
She said it was probably the individual officer who decided to fire, not the commander.
''If they can't get someone under control, we have a policy that police officers are supposed to use the least force necessary to do that," Kathleen O'Toole added. ''It was highly unlikely that she was a target. Nobody said she was anything but an innocent bystander."
A tactical response unit officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that only a handful of officers in the unit have received training with the weapons.
Another high-ranking police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that those officers were trained at the Boston Police Department's firing range at Moon Island, but that the equipment had never been used outside training.
FN Herstal's website promotes use of its less-lethal weapons for riot and crowd control and points out that, for best effectiveness, the shooter should be 30 meters, about 98 feet, from the suspect. ''Never aim at the face," the website states.
The projectiles are designed to break up on impact and not to penetrate the skin. The company says its projectiles have an effective range of 3 feet to about 160 feet and have a higher probability of hitting their targets than similar products. It also says there is a ''low risk of permanent injuries, even at very short range." The projectiles, measuring just more than a half-inch and weighing 8.5 grams, are said to neutralize the suspect, first through the trauma of the strike and then by releasing a payload, which in this case was a spray of oleoresin capsicum, a pepper product.
One specialist in so-called nonlethal technology said that police need to pay particular attention to the range at which the weapons are effective.
''With that kind of training with nonlethals, I think they're aiming fairly low, so the chances of somebody getting hit in the head are fairly slim," said Glenn Shwaery, director of the nonlethal technology innovation center at the University of New Hampshire. ''In crowded situations, though, if the target moves, you don't know where it's going to hit somebody who's behind them."
''This is an anomaly that this happened," Shwaery said. ''It's very unfortunate."
Andrea Estes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.