The security game

Boston has learned its lessons; Vancouver is still learning

Fans celebrated in relative peace in Boston after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. Five arrests and no serious injuries were reported. Fans celebrated in relative peace in Boston after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. Five arrests and no serious injuries were reported. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / June 17, 2011

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When it comes to championship games, some police root against the hometown team because conventional thinking dictates that the winning city could see the most crime and chaos.

But Wednesday night, as the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks, it was the losing city that burned.

As Boston fans celebrated under the overwhelming watch of hundreds of city police officers, only five people were arrested and no serious injuries were reported.

In Vancouver, police said they made nearly 100 arrests, almost 150 people were injured, and 15 cars were burned, including two police vehicles. Nine officers were hurt, including two who were hit with projectiles; one was struck by a brick. “We also had some officers that suffered human bites,’’ Chief Constable Jim Chu of the Vancouver police said at a press conference.

Meanwhile, Boston police were able to revel in the relative calm of the celebration and to show that they have learned valuable lessons from a decade of championship wins that at times ended in tragedy.

“I got calls from all over the country, asking ‘How’d you do it?’ ’’ Mayor Thomas M. Menino said.

Boston teams have now won seven championships since 2002. But over the years, the accompanying celebrations have strained police resources and led to multiple deaths, most recently in 2008, when David Woodman, a 22- year-old Emmanuel College student, stopped breathing after a confrontation with police after the Celtics victory over the Lakers.

In 2004, a 21-year-old man was killed by a drunk driver during rioting after the Super Bowl. Later that year, police fired pepper pellets into a crowd celebrating a Red Sox victory; an Emerson College student, Victoria Snelgrove, was struck and killed.

“They’ve been tested over the years, and they’ve had some really tragic incidents that they wanted to learn from,’’ said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C., a think tank for major police departments. “Boston is really cautious. Boston has really learned.’’

An operational plan obtained by the Globe called for more than 950 Boston police officers to be deployed. State Police provided more than 100 troopers, including members of their canine and motorcycle units. Several outside police agencies also sent officers.

Commissioner Edward F. Davis declined to provide specific numbers of personnel, but said that there were at least 1,000 officers on the ground.

“We’re very happy with the cooperation we got,’’ he said. “We didn’t have that kind of real rabid type of disturbance, but we also have had the experience of managing crowds extensively.’’

Still, Davis, who called Chu a friend, said he was relieved that Boston was relatively unscathed. The only property damage was a report of people trying to tear off rearview mirrors on five cars on Endicott Street.

Three people were arrested in that incident on charges of malicious destruction of property.

More than a dozen police motorcyles swarmed Beverly and North Washington streets after revelers mobbed an MBTA bus and threatened to tip it over.

“There are things that can’t be planned for in events like this,’’ Davis said. “You can have the best personnel and the best training, but if you’re not in the best spot when the crowd turns violent it’s very difficult to manage.’’

One of the police strategies for keeping control was to “confine the celebrations in the smallest possible area,’’ according to the operational plan.

Police closed various streets around North Station, Faneuil Hall, and Kenmore Square. Seemingly endless rows of metal barriers lined Causeway Street and side streets near the TD Garden, where the Bruins play.

Revelers leaving the bars rushed toward Causeway, only to find their path blocked by metal barriers or lines of police officers. They were forced to walk toward Haymarket Station and then disperse to the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, precisely where police had wanted them to go, Davis said.

“We wanted them in more open areas,’’ he said. “You don’t want them near windows. You don’t want them near areas where you can roll cars over.’’

Most officers wore uniforms and reflective vests and walked among the crowds in an effort to prevent problems, Davis said. Officers in riot gear patrolled key celebration spots, but unlike past years, when they descended on the crowds almost immediately following games, this time they stood back, a mostly passive but imposing presence.

“Without a doubt, we are taking a more laid-back approach to this,’’ Davis said. “Balance is what we’re striving for.’’

Police also asked officials at the Garden not to host a viewing party for Game 7, fearing that it could lead to thousands more on the street. Garden officials decided against the party. In Vancouver, where police had employed a “meet and greet’’ strategy of mingling and socializing with fans, the games were shown on outdoor screens, an activity that went smoothly for the first six games.

But during Game 7, Chu said, “criminals, anarchists, and thugs bent on destruction and mayhem’’ blended in with fans downtown and sparked the chaos. Some of the people arrested had come with masks, gasoline, and fire extinguishers they used as weapons, Chu said.

In hindsight, the constable said, there could have been a stronger police presence where the riots occurred.

Globe correspondent Cara Bayles contributed to this report. Maria Cramer can be reached at

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