Skippers leave residents with a sinking feeling – City outraged about chaotic scene; public safety officials defend their response

By Seth Daniel

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The digital revolution hit Revere Beach with a force last Tuesday formerly unseen in this community, as thousands of mostly Boston Public School students descended on the beach for a skip day that was covertly coordinated by phone text messaging and Internet chat groups.

The crowds of teens were estimated at 3,000, and most of them arrived on the T at around 9:30 a.m. in unison and spent almost all day at the beach, as nearly helpless and undermanned police forces tried to keep them in check.

By 3 p.m., the situation had become violent and the Boulevard was shut down and the students herded back to the T. There were six arrests, two of them for assaults with a deadly weapon. Reportedly, several street gang members from Boston were roaming within the crowds – though many did so without incident.

The situation became worse when some of the students fanned out into the neighborhoods and overwhelmed store owners and local businesses – with allegations of shoplifting and underage people trying to buy alcohol.

Capt. Michael Murphy of the Revere Police said they began getting calls for service around 1 p.m.

“There were calls about large groups going into corner stores and overwhelming the clerks, and some allegations of shoplifting; and some kids went to the liquor store on Shirley Avenue in an attempt to purchase alcoholic beverages; and just a lot of calls from people observing the large number of kids,” he said, noting that their shifts had been keeping an eye on the beach all day long.

The chaos and shutdown of the Boulevard late in the afternoon caused havoc for commuters trying to pass through Revere, clogging the roads in all directions and quadrupling drive times even locally.

It has caused outrage within the city, enough so that the event drew a front-page article in the Boston Herald, TV and radio coverage on Monday. It also triggered a special emergency meeting of the Revere City Council on Monday afternoon.

In that meeting, Councillor George V. Colella said he was on the beach when the kids began pouring out of the station, and he described it as nothing he had ever seen before.

“At 9:45 a.m., I was down there and I couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw the entourage leaving the train station for Revere Beach and, quite frankly, I didn’t see one State Police car or State Police officer along that beachfront,” he said. “In fact, the Blizzard of ‘78 paled in comparison to what descended on Revere Beach last Tuesday…It was just a wave of humanity I’ve never witnessed. As a matter of fact, it was frightening…Certainly [there was no plan] evident that morning.”

If one were keeping score, it would be penciled in: Kids – 1, public safety – 0.

Privately, some public safety officials admitted that they figuratively got caught with their pants down, but at Monday’s meeting, officers from the MBTA Police and the State Police explained their side of the story, noting that they made mistakes but were successful in moving the crowd.

“There are some things we would buff up, and that is communication,” said State Police Major Dan Grabowski, “along with minimizing the impacts on the City of Revere, and that would be done by traffic mitigation measures.”

Joseph O’Connor, deputy police chief at the Transit Police, said they considered their efforts a success due to so few incidents with such a big crowd.

“I know there were a lot of kids down there and there were some arrests, but the vast majority of youths did comply when they were directed to leave,” he said. “There were also no arrests on the MBTA when the group returned to Boston.”

Boston Public Schools (BPS) officials said their School Police force also responded with the Transit Police.

“In this particular case, our School Police – as soon as they got word from the MBTA and the State Police – they sent a number of officers to the beach to assess the situation and maintain order, including our chief of police,” said Chris Horan, a spokesperson for the BPS. “As soon as he got the call, he went straight to Revere Beach.”

Revere Capt. Murphy also said it might not be fair to put all the blame on the kids. It was a hot, beach day that would have been busy anyway.

“It would be unfair to attach the whole thing to these kids,” he said. “There were maybe 1,500 kids, and there were only a handful of arrests.”

Horan said there was a 3 percent different in high school attendance last Tuesday, compared to the previous Tuesday, or 2,824 students who were absent. He also said it wasn’t just a BPS problem.

“This is being billed as a Boston Public Schools story, but, frankly, we know of other students from other cities and towns that were there, too,” said Horan. “This is being billed as a Boston Public Schools story only, and we don’t think that’s entirely the case…There is the sense this was a delineated day, and we knew about it. We were as surprised as every else of the absences. It’s not true that this was on the calendar and we sat back and watched.”

Revere Superintendent of Schools Paul Dakin said there were few, if any, Revere students involved.

“There were no significant absences,” he said. “This wasn’t a Revere thing at all.”

In fact, public safety officials from the T and the Boston Police at the Monday meeting said they were alerted to the large numbers headed for the beach long before they arrived. In fact, they were tracking them as the progressed to the Revere Beach Station.

Instead of turning those students around when they arrived, though, public safety officials let the truant students out of the station and onto the beach. No one really found out why, though.

Major Grabowski said they ordered the lowest level response – a Tier 1 response – and adopted a policy of visibility and zero tolerance. During the afternoon, the situation was increased to a Tier 2 response, he said, and five K-9 units and six motorcycle units were brought in.

“If it ever blew to anything further than it was, we would have deployed troopers from Logan Airport,” he said, noting that the situation never rose to the highest level, a Tier 3 response.

In the end, the situation probably didn’t elevate to the extent that it could have, and it was probably remarkable that it didn’t. Nevertheless, the potential for chaos that existed last Tuesday is something that no local officials are willing to dismiss.

“We need our citizens and residents and those who use our beach to know they’re going to be safe down there,” said Council President Dan Rizzo. “Whether it’s isolated, it’s a little unnerving how fast a crowd can assemble and how quickly that crowd can get out of control.”

Said Councillor John Correggio, “We want to nip this in the bud right now…We need more State Police presence. We spent a lot of time getting money invested down there.”

Councillor Charlie Patch said he was worried about a repeat performance now that the kids know they can pull it off.

“Now that they’ve gotten a taste of Revere Beach, I’m afraid they’re going to come often, and that is a problem,” he said.

Horan at the BPS said they are not taking it lightly, and many students throughout Boston’s high schools were called to assemblies the day following the incident.

“Across the board, no one is taking this lightly, including our superintendent or any of those who run our schools,” said Horan.

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