City to charge residents for civil misdemeanors

by Beacon Staff • March 1, 2006

On Feb. 17, Mayor Thomas Menino and Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole announced that the Boston Police Department (BPD) will now be using citation books containing a list of infractions and their costs to issue fines for civil misdemeanor offenses.,Seemingly inexpensive pastimes like playing fetch with your dog in The Public Garden or holding a Friday-night apartment party have just gotten a bit more costly.

On Feb. 17, Mayor Thomas Menino and Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole announced that the Boston Police Department (BPD) will now be using citation books containing a list of infractions and their costs to issue fines for civil misdemeanor offenses. This push to issue citations is an attempt to improve the quality of life for Boston residents, O'Toole said at an open forum with Emerson students last week.

According to the citation books that police will carry, fines range from $10 to $300 and cover a variety of civil infractions, from walking a dog without a leash ($25) to disrupting neighbors with a loud party ($300).

Instead of stopping to give a warning or going through the paperwork of an arrest, police can write out a citation similar to that of a speeding or parking ticket, O'Toole said. A city hall press release stated this "revamped misdemeanor citation process" came out of the Mayor's Strategic Crime Council, which meets each week to discuss crime-reduction tactics.

At the Emerson forum, O'Toole referenced another theory behind this measure, which is called "the broken window strategy."

"Police should pay attention to the smaller things, because disorder is an invitation for more serious crime," she said, explaining that if a broken window is left in a state of disrepair, it is an invitation for greater offenses.

District A-1 Captain Bernard O'Rourke, who commands the area including the Theatre District and Chinatown and was present at the forum, said in a later interview that these misdemeanor citations will make it easier for his officers on the street.

He called the paperwork that used to be necessary to issue citations or arrests a "stumbling block" for police who often have other responsibilities they need to attend to.

O'Rourke said he is unsure how much of an effect cracking down on the smaller infractions will have on overall crime, but he said he subscribes to an idea a former boss once told him.

"He used to say, 'it's not the lions and tigers that drive you out of the jungle; it's the mosquitoes,'" O'Rourke said.

The fine that seems to be most pertinent to college students is the $250-$300 ticket for loud parties.

Too often, O'Rourke said, police issue written warnings to party holders that will be ignored as soon as the officer leaves the vicinity. There is no fee for these warnings, but if ignored, they can lead to arrest.

The citations, however, will allow police to slap offenders with a monetary punishment, rather than arresting them, which would give a permanent stain on their record and take up valuable police time.

"A fine is a good intermediate step between a warning and an arrest," O'Toole said, adding that she is not out to take away the "fun" of college life. "I had fun when I was in college, and I encourage all of you to have fun."

Junior writing, literature and publishing major Amanda Barnett said she understood the necessity for the BPD to address smaller issues.

She said the Suffolk students in the apartment above hers in Beacon Hill often throw raucous parties that have been broken up by police. Barnett hoped that this would help alleviate the noise level in her building.

Ethan Amarant, a sophomore communications major with a concentration in film, agreed.

"I think [the fines] suck, but, at the same time, we get away with murder," he said, adding that college students often party without penalty.

Officer Daniel Daley of District 14, Allston-Brighton, said loud parties are a particular problem in his area.

"People [non-college student residents] have been leaving the area all the time, complaining of the noise," he said.

Meanwhile, some students say they are skeptical about the idea behind the citations.

"It's a theory. It's like communism, it makes sense on paper, but once you do it ." Pete Chisisck, a sophomore film major, said, adding that he doesn't think that cracking down on civil infractions will fix the real problems.

Phung My Vo, a senior marketing communication major, said she wondered if the city was just looking for another way to collect money.

Like Chisisck, she said that she doesn't understand the correlation between punishing minor offenses and deterring crime. "I don't see how walking a dog with out a leash relates with drug problems," Vo said.