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Their night starts when game ends

True blue Celtics fans : Boston police will be watching the crowds, not their TVs

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / June 15, 2008

It seems the whole city is caught up in Boston sports mania, going gaga over the Celtics, cheering on the Red Sox, and anticipating the Patriots' return to the gridiron.

But not everyone is celebrating. For the past four years, Boston police have watched with pits in their stomachs as fans reveled in back-to-back Patriots Super Bowl wins and the Red Sox World Series victories of 2004 and 2007.

For police, these victories have not meant throwing back pints of beer with friends, but suiting up in riot gear, grabbing a baton, and praying the city stays quiet.

Tonight, as the Celtics try to become the next New England team to win a championship, many in the Boston Police Department are watching yet again with an anguishing mixture of excitement and dread. They don't want the Celtics to lose, but they're not sure they want them to win either.

"All of a sudden we're the city of champions, and it's killing us," said Mark Parolin, a South End sergeant who remembers a fan throwing a vacuum cleaner at him during the 2004 Super Bowl celebration.

Most city police are true blue, Boston-bred sports fans who grew up worshiping at the altar of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. But now that they're police, their viewpoint has changed. Victories are like potential powder kegs, and it is up to police to stop the explosion.

"I cheer for the teams, and then when it comes down to the playoffs, I find it hard and distracting to cheer for them," said Superintendent Daniel Linskey, who is in charge of the department's Bureau of Field Services. "We have an overriding need to have safety."

And most officers would rather watch the games on television with friends than be called in on mandatory overtime to watch drunken crowds celebrate a victory the police cannot savor.

"It'd be kind of nice if we could all sit down and enjoy it one time, but it's never going to happen," Parolin said.

Linskey said the last championship game he was able to relish was the Patriots' 2002 Super Bowl victory over the St. Louis Rams, when the city's celebration of its first football championship was relatively peaceful. "I'd love to be able to enjoy them and relax," he said. "But weeks before them, the captains and the officers I work with, we start getting a little nervous, a little tense."

The unrepentant die-hards in the department said they understand the dilemma.

Patrolman Allen Kelley has one of the most enviable beats in the department - monitoring the crowds in and around TD Banknorth Garden, an assignment that often means guarding the Celtics bench. As an ardent fan of forward Leon Powe ("I like the underdog," he said), Kelley is just as eager as the rest of the city for a Celtics win.

"But then you know you're going to have to deal with the celebrations later," said Kelley. "It's a double-edged sword. You're kind of rooting for them, but then you're saying, 'Oh we just won; you know what that means.' "

On Wednesday afternoon, police practiced tactical responses on a closed street in South Boston. At least a hundred officers in black cargo pants and T-shirts stood in straight lines, hoisted batons, and in unison chanted orders such as "Move!" Some stood with muzzled dogs, while others were on horseback or circled on bicycles, practicing crowd control and medical rescues.

It was a dress rehearsal for a show of force that Boston sports fans have seen nearly a half-dozen times since 2004, when a 21-year-old man was killed by a drunk driver during post-Super Bowl rioting. Later that year, police fired pepper pellets into a crowd celebrating a Red Sox victory, and killed Emerson College student Victoria Snelgrove.

The deaths, which shook the city's faith in the department and led to the demotions of two top police officials, still haunt Linskey, who assumed his post in 2007 and - with it - responsibility for the officers' response on victory nights.

Each time the Red Sox or the Patriots have been on the verge of momentous victories, Linskey and other commanders have had to muster more than 1,000 officers in riot gear and on horseback to fan out in the city.

The police have become so proficient in preparing for sports-fueled revelry - after three Super Bowl victories and two World Series championships in the past six years - that other cities have visited to pick up tips.

Each effort is expensive, which in some ways has been a silver lining for soured sports fans on the force: bigger paychecks. It cost the department $220,000 to patrol the city during this year's Super Bowl and $400,000 during the 2007 World Series.

But with the exception of dozens of disorderly conduct arrests, some broken car windows, and minor injuries, the city stayed fairly calm.

Linskey said he wants to keep it that way. And to achieve that, he said he has tried a few tricks that would shock the New England faithful.

The day the Patriots faced the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, an officer handed Linskey a Giants baseball hat. Linskey put on the hat and strode into the roll call room, where officers were waiting for their orders.

"Some booed, some cheered," Linskey recalled.

During the Detroit Pistons-Celtics playoff series, Linskey asked a Capuchin brother visiting police headquarters to gather with his officers and pray for safety.

Part of the prayer, Linskey said, went something like this: "We need peace in the city. If that means the Pistons have to win, then so be it."

Both moves were tongue in cheek, but the officers got the jokes, and their underlying message.

"I'm not really looking to jinx the hometown team," Linskey said. "I just want to make sure people are safe, my cops and people."

Now that the Celtics are just one game away from victory, the sports fan in each officer is beginning to win out over professional reservations.

Linskey wants his 10- and 13-year-old sons to savor their first Celtics championship.

Kelley said that he plans to wear a green shirt underneath his uniform.

And Parolin said he would rather guard the city while carefree fans celebrate in the bars and the streets, than see the Celtics lose the chance to hang their first championship banner in 22 years.

"I want them to win," Parolin said. "I hate it, but I want them to win."

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

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