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On a roll: Officer lives to halt stunt destruction

By Donovan Slack, Globe Correspondent, 5/5/2003

Joseph Pepicelli lurks in dark alleys, squats behind gravestones, and hides around corners, waiting for the next offender to roll by.

His mind reels from streaks left by skateboaders scraping the railings at City Hall Plaza and from chipped granite left by stunt bikers at Copley Square. Don't get him started on the statue of Samuel Adams at Faneuil Hall, where he says jumpers in their inline skates - ''designed for destruction'' - have loosened mortar in the base.

''It upsets me so much,'' Pepicelli said. ''I'm not going to let this malicious destruction continue.''

Driven by a near-obsessive mission, the Boston Municipal Police officer has gone far beyond the call of duty to guard the city's historical monuments.

Pepicelli's vigilance led the City Council last week to outlaw rollerblading, roller skating, and stunt-type bicycling on public property in the city, except for sidewalks and streets. The municipal police - the city agency assigned to protect public buildings and monuments - can slap violators with a $100 fine for their first offense and $200 after that.

For Pepicelli, it is a small victory. Few lose sleep over the nicks, chips, and scrapes that scar the city's history like the 44-year-old lifelong North End resident known as ''Joe-Pep.''

In 1996, when he joined the municipal police, Pepicelli camped out nightly for two months in Copp's Hill Burying Ground, hoping to catch vandals who had cracked off the tops of some of the slate tombstones. Then while flipping through a history book, he discovered they had been pocked and broken for hundreds of years.

''The British used them for target practice,'' he said. ''I couldn't believe it. Here I was staking this place out. I wanted to find this person, I wanted to call the units that were on and tell them, `I got the guy, I got the guy.' I was full of salt and vinegar.''

Seven years have done little to temper his zeal, and last year Pepicelli set out to change city law. He marched into the city clerk's office and began rattling off statutes and sections he wanted changed, including 16-12.37. The law made skateboarding illegal on public property but didn't account for skating or biking.

''He had it down cold,'' City Clerk Rosaria Salerno remembered. ''He was like a computer. He knew exactly what the laws were and he knew how the infractions butt up against the laws.''

Pepicelli says he is a ''chapters-and-sections guy'' who fields calls from officers across the city looking for the proper statutes for various crimes. Recounting a recent incident with a teenage skateboarder defacing a monument, he said: ''I told him `You're trespassing under 266-120' [misdemeanor trespassing after notice]. But I was going to charge him with 272-73 [felonious destruction of a historical monument].''

Salerno, a little dazed by Pepicelli's number-speak, took him to the City Council. Councilor Rob Consalvo of Hyde Park says he was moved to spearhead the effort to outlaw destructive skating and biking, especially after poring over the pile of photographs Pepicelli had taken, showing the damage.

Pepicelli has never married or had children, and still lives with his mother in his childhood home, where he can see the steeple of the Old North Church from the window. ''I'm a kind of odd guy,'' he said.

While other twentysomethings were out partying, Pepicelli, who was a carpenter and a deputy sheriff before becoming a police officer, says he could be found strolling museums or talking to elderly Italians in the North End.

His obsession with protecting the city's history might have robbed him of some of life's pleasures, but it could save Bostonians money at a time when every penny counts.

At City Hall Plaza, officials say the city has spent more than $15,000 replacing bronze railings at $350 per foot. At the Boston Public Library in Copley Square (voted second-best place to skateboard by Boston Phoenix readers in 1999), the harm is considerably greater.

''They damaged these massive granite stones that make up the McKinn building,'' library spokeswoman Catherine Zannino said. ''Most of them are original. It's major, it's damage, and it's permanent.''

Pepicelli says he plans to use the new law to crack down on bicycle couriers in particular, who he says destroy public property by ''stunt-jumping'' with their bikes - jumping and sliding along curbs, ledges, and railings.

One courier, who did not wish to be identified, said grinding helps the day go by in a monotonous profession.

''You have to do something,'' he said. ''It gets boring.''

Those are words that make Pepicelli's skin crawl. But while the chapters-and-sections guy might know every statute in the books and might even be prepared to camp out every night, armed with strict, new laws, Pepicelli says he's not sure if he will ever finish his mission.

''There's only so much I can do,'' Pepicelli said. ''I'm only one person, and there's so many monuments.''

Donovan Slack can be reached at [email protected].

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 5/5/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.
 

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Pepicelli has never married or had children, and still lives with his mother in his childhood home, where he can see the steeple of the Old North Church from the window. ''I'm a kind of odd guy,'' he said.


self proclaimed ...
 

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ntvs, do you know Joe? Who are you?

Let's watch what you say here about this, people. The above named is a friend of mine.

This is yet another case of a police officer with the best of intentions talking to a reporter and the reporter writing an article from a point of view that is not necessarily what the officer wanted to convey.
 

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Woah dunngeon, take it easy I was not meaning to offend.

IMHO hiding in graveyards catching teenagers with wheels is not the ideal way of dealing with the problem. Perhaps by working with the public and finding a place for these kids to play is a better way to approach the situation. What ever happenned to community policing?
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Officer Dunngeon said:
ntvs, do you know Joe? Who are you?

This is yet another case of a police officer with the best of intentions talking to a reporter and the reporter writing an article from a point of view that is not necessarily what the officer wanted to convey.
They never come out quite right, unfortunately. Still, I thought it was a decent article. You can tell him that at least one person out there really appreciates what he is doing! Some of these kids DESTROY some real great treasures and think nothing of it. Many would continue to do so even if they had the proper venue (there really isn't a shortage of skate parks). We had this problem at my college and it was real annoying. We found kids coming from 30 miles away to skate on campus because word got around how great it was. Meanwhile, I decided to sit outside and study on a granite bench by our fantastic fountain on campus only to find the bench was scraped up and covered in wax. When I finally found a decent place to sit, one kid did a "rail slide" right into my laptop! :x
I went through the skate/blade phase at one time too - but I always made sure I wasn't bothering people or damaging property, it didn't seem difficult to me.
I hope this doesn't make me sound like a grumpy old man! :)
 

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ntvs said:
IMHO hiding in graveyards catching teenagers with wheels is not the ideal way of dealing with the problem. Perhaps by working with the public and finding a place for these kids to play is a better way to approach the situation. What ever happenned to community policing?
There are skateboard parks in and around many areas of Boston that were built specifically in dealing with this problem. The kids that keep returning to Fanueil Hall, City Hall and Copley Square are the same ones who have been told before to cool it. You have no idea what Joe goes through with these kids, they have really given him a hard time when all he's trying to do is his job.
 

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Dunngeon, yeah I guess I was shottin' from the hip when I made that first comment. My kid brother skateboards so I was a little aggressive. I'm sure that Joe works hard, and that the story was taken out of context.

I did have a chance to ask him his opinion on this matter. He said that even if they built more parks he would always skate on the street. I just had to skake my head and sigh. Can't seem to win anywhere on this topic.




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When I would let someone go without writing a summons I would say.....don't mistake my kindness as a weakness.....
 
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