Tragedy in Boston: The impact projectile death of Victoria Snelgrove
As most police agencies with a major league or Division I athletic program know, the potential for sports related public disorder cannot be ignored. Thankfully, the statistical probability of a riot occurring in most American cities is low. Likewise, those that have experienced one can often point to an athletic event as the catalyst.
Fourteen people have been killed with impact projectiles in the United States and Canada since 1971. Each and every case was a tragedy, but only one generated international press coverage and a level of attention that likely exceeds that of the other 13 combined. The October 21, 2004 death of Victoria Snelgrove touched such a nerve for a variety of reasons, including not only that she was a totally innocent bystander, but the historical significance of the event she was involved in when she was killed.
The Boston Police Department had seen its share of public order events, and put together an action plan for the game that included 334 officers, two Public Order Platoons-each supported by grenadiers using impact projectiles-Mobile Field Force Units including mounted patrol, and additional officers from the Massachusetts State Police and area colleges.
They also activated a Unified Command Center out of Boston Police Headquarters that monitored live surveillance video cameras, and was staffed by representatives from MA State Police, Transit Police, Boston Fire, Boston EMS, and area colleges. The Red Sox won the game, and became the first team in Major League Baseball history to win a seven-game postseason series after losing the first three games. As they say at such times, the crowd went wild.
Within minutes of the game ending, the traditional gathering place of Kenmore Square became “wall to wall” people. The mood was celebratory and appropriately, Boston Police officers stood by and allowed the crowd to exercise their right of assembly.
In less than an hour elements in the crowd reportedly become “unruly”, and persons were observed climbing onto buildings around Lansdowne Street-including Fenway Park. Missiles were reportedly thrown at the police, and small fires were lit in the street.
The Boston Police Department responded to this tragedy in a most unusual way, at least unusual for police agencies in America. Within hours the Police Commissioner publically accepted full responsibility for the death. She then initiated three separate investigations:
• Internal Affairs
• The Stern Commission (headed by former U.S. Attorney Donald Stern)
1. Independent Commission
2. Examine all issues involved in the event
3. Ensure that lessons learned can be used to benefit the Boston PD as well as other agencies.
The homicide and internal affairs investigations are SOP when an unexpected and/or unintended death occurs at the hands of police, but giving an outside independent investigative body free reign is simply unheard of.
• There was inadequate planning related to deficiencies in the crowd control plan, and no specific rules of engagement for using the FN303.
• There was inadequate training on the FN3030, specifically as it relates to training on when to fire the weapon.
• There was a breakdown of command discipline on Lansdowne Street.
• Clearly delineating the roles of commanders in the operational plans.
• Restrict LL weapon use to certified officers.
• Improve officer training on less-lethal weapons with specific focus on the role and use of each weapon, and when to shoot as opposed to just how.
In conclusion, the tragic death of Victoria Snelgrove set a number of processes in motion-three of which are mentioned above. One that was not was the misinformation process that circulated among law enforcement, with so called “experts” offering their thoughts via pen or podium. Unfortunately, these folks had their facts wrong on a number of critical issues, which furthered the confusion and made post event learning more challenging that it needed to be. The two most often heard factual errors were:
• The device involved was a Pepperball when in fact, it was the FN303. The FN303 is an outstanding weapon, and in my view quite possibly the best overall extended range public order impact device available. The launcher offers extremely accurate rounds that deliver middle of the road energy (read: motivation to leave, with legs still capable of allowing same), at ranges out to and beyond 50 yards. The device in my opinion was unfairly demonized following this event, as the origin of the regretful outcome was not found within the weapon.
For more detailed information concerning this event and critical issues involving impact projectile use, please go to:
Public order picture from:
Victoria Snelgrove picture from the family.
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