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Poor choice for pregame

The Boston Police Department is on call. The city's liquor stores are on alert, and area college students are on notice. By Sunday, it just might be safe to play a football game 1,000 miles away in Jacksonville, Fla.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino was unequivocal about what this city will not tolerate from students after he met with college administrators at the Parkman House on Monday. ''They're going to put the fear of God in them," Menino said of the message he instructed college officials to deliver to students inclined to repeat the drunken rioting that capped the New England Patriots' Super Bowl victory one year ago. ''We want to make sure that this Super Bowl is not a repeat of last year's."

To ensure that there is no recurrence of the street violence that ended in a young man's death, the mayor might want to direct that warning to his police officers, as well as to the crowds they are supposed to be trained to control.

In his zeal to hold rowdy collegians and lax liquor salesmen accountable for reckless behavior, Menino this week has glossed over official culpability for the turmoil in the streets this time last year.

Of course, students should not have been setting fires and upending cars in a sick salute to their NFL champions. Of course, package stores should not be selling cases of beer to underage drinkers. But it is worth remembering that it was the failure of the city to deploy enough officers to quell disturbances that led to the death one year ago today of 21-year-old James Grabowski, struck in the chaos by an allegedly drunk driver. How is his memory served by skipping over that stunning failure of leadership?

Instead of talking about public safety remedies within his control -- better police training in crowd control, for instance -- the mayor has chosen instead to play the role of headmaster this week, threatening expulsions that he is powerless to impose on rowdy collegians. He is impatient that college administrators feel the same obligation to due process that binds the criminal justice system.

''If you continue not to make an example of the bad ones, it is going to keep happening," he said yesterday. ''We know it isn't all of them. Ninety-nine percent adhere to the rules, but that small minority gives everyone a black eye."

Couldn't the same be said of police officers too quick to fire into a throng of students, too outnumbered to handle a surging crowd, too inexperienced to quell a riot?

''The issue was deployment last year, not training; our police are well trained," Menino said, though he did not know whether the department had undergone new training since last fall, when officers firing projectiles into a crowd after the Red Sox beat the New York Yankees for the American League title killed an Emerson College student.

Former US attorney Donald Stern is leading an investigation into the death of 21-year-old Victoria Snelgrove of East Bridgewater last Oct. 20, but Menino said he does not expect a report from the panel for weeks.

''I have confidence in the police; it is the colleges and the liquor stores," he said, echoing the blame he assigned a year ago before an internal probe called the sparse police deployment after the Super Bowl ''inexcusable."

Noting that he has unearthed a city ordinance that would allow him to shut down liquor sales for three days in the event of what it calls ''great public excitement," Menino, only half-jokingly, said he considered bringing Prohibition back to Boston for a few days in the name of public safety.

That energy seems at least partially misdirected. It should not be enough for the mayor or for the public that Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole plans to deploy hundreds of police officers Sunday, instead of the paltry 43 officers who were on duty a year ago. Greater numbers alone did not save Victoria Snelgrove. Shouldn't her death suggest that police training and practices deserve at least as much scrutiny as liquor store sales?

Eileen McNamara is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at

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