EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 22, 2013

Editorial: Police could have done more to prevent brawl

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — A brawl among some 200 Haverhill and Methuen high school students, fueled by taunting on social media, reflects poorly on both schools and particularly on the students involved.

It also doesn’t say much for the leadership of the Haverhill Police Department, which knew the brawl was coming, yet did little more than send extra officers to a basketball game to make arrests when the expected fights broke out.

As at least one of our Web commenters pointed out, why did the police do nothing to prevent the incident from happening in the first place, rather than merely reacting to its aftermath? It’s a good question.

Something happened during or following a hockey game between Haverhill and Methuen Saturday night that generated bad blood between the students of the two high schools. Methuen hockey coach Denny Egan told reporter Douglas Moser that he did not see a fight at the game.

“No fight. I was there, and there wasn’t one,” he said.

But something got the students riled up because shortly after the hockey game, the tweets began to fly on Twitter. More than a dozen individuals began planning for retribution at the Tuesday night basketball game.

“Tonight’s gonna be gooood coming back for more Haverhill,” one girl tweeted Tuesday morning.

“Haverhill vs. methuen round two #HillieNation,” another tweeted Tuesday afternoon.

A Haverhill hockey player who said he was not playing Saturday picked fights with Methuen fans and players all weekend, The Eagle-Tribune’s Mike LaBella reported.

“Hey methuen..see you Tuesday! I will come onto the court and knock out your point guard!” the student tweeted Saturday night.

Haverhill’s school resource officer heard of the plans for trouble at the Tuesday game and the Police Department made the decision to assign extra officers to the event, according to Haverhill Police Lt. Robert Pistone.

After the game, Methuen students were allowed to leave the gymnasium first. Six extra Haverhill police officers were patrolling the front parking lot but fighting soon broke out at the rear of the school.

“The officer reported that about 200 kids were out of control,” Pistone said. “Several groups were fighting throughout the crowd.”

According to the police report, the officers were outnumbered and at a “severe disadvantage.” The fighting only stopped when officers began arresting the most aggressive students. In all, seven students — five from Methuen and two from Haverhill — were arrested.

It seems to us that police could have done more to head off this confrontation before it turned violent. Chief Alan DeNaro should have coordinated with the superintendents of both school systems to make it clear to the students attending the game that the adults in both communities knew what was planned and that it would not be tolerated. Cancelling the game should have been an option.

Even those steps might not have prevented a confrontation. But they would have put the students involved on notice that adults were aware of and monitoring their behavior.

Ultimately, the students are responsible for their actions and should bear the consequences of it.

But it is fortunate that there were no serious injuries as a result of the fighting. The Haverhill Police Department knew a confrontation was coming, and waited for it to happen.

That strikes us as an awfully risky decision to make when young people’s safety is at stake.