Violent crime down in Boston
Steady decline since ’06 credited to police work, neighborhood groups
By Maria Cramer, Globe Staff | November 25, 2009
Violent crime has dipped dramatically in Boston, with homicides on a pace to decrease by 20 percent by year’s end - an encouraging trend that law enforcement officials and community activists are working to preserve during the often volatile holiday season.
The drop - 44 homicides through Sunday compared with 56 by the same date last year - is a continuation of the steady decline that began after 2006, when the number of killings reached 75.
Police and city activists who work with youth on the streets say the decrease is a result of several factors: better communication between law enforcement officials and community groups, growing weariness of violence from people in the city’s historically troubled neighborhoods, and a return to crime-fighting initiatives that were successful in the 1990s, when the city experienced a sharp fall in the number of homicides.
“I’m very happy with the way things are going,’’ Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said in an interview yesterday. “The community has been happy with the progress that’s been made and they want to see it continue, and it’s my plan to deliver that to them.’’
Federal statistics show homicides decreased slightly nationwide - about 5 percent - between 2006 and 2008, the most recent years available.
Despite the progress in Boston, community leaders and police said they do not want to take the quiet for granted, especially around Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays, when alcohol-fueled parties can lead to violence.
On Friday, leaders of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, a nonprofit organization that works closely with police to prevent crime, will launch the “Season of Peace,’’ an annual campaign that asks young people to refrain from committing acts of violence during the holidays.
Davis said he will place more patrol officers and detectives on city streets on the nights of the long holiday weekend. “We’re always cautious at this time of year,’’ he said.
The decrease in violent crime in Boston extends over recent years.
In 2005, when the number of homicides spiked to a 10-year high, 64 had been committed by Thanksgiving and 75 by the end of the year. The following year, there were 68 by the November holiday and 75 for the year. But in 2007, the number began to decline slightly with 63 homicides by Thanksgiving and 66 by year’s end.
Since then, the number of violent crimes - with the exception of rapes - has fallen steadily, a drop Davis said is in large part the result of a reinvestment in strategies that target gangs. Earlier this year, police attributed the rise in rapes to more reporting, rather than an actual increase in assaults. They also noted that the year before had seen far fewer rapes reported, which made the increase seem even more dramatic.
A key factor in the decline of other violent crimes, Davis said, is the department’s increasingly aggressive use of Operation Ceasefire, a collaboration of law enforcement and community groups that offers gang members social services like counseling, job training, and school help in exchange for an end to violence. Police and prosecutors threaten long-term federal imprisonment if gang members continue to be violent.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office attributed the drop in part to the arrests and convictions of so-called violent “impact players’’ and gang members for nonfatal shootings and gun possession cases.
’’The message is getting out that there’s going to be accountability if you use violence on the streets of Boston,’’ Conley said in a prepared statement.
Another reason, according to law enforcement officials, is the presence of more street workers, who are hired to form relationships with gang members and keep them away from crime. The Boston Foundation has added 13 more street workers to collaborate with those already working for the city.
Nature might have also lent a hand.
In June, an onslaught of rainy weather hit Boston. At the time, the commissioner welcomed the rain because he said violence is tamped down when people are inside. But yesterday, Davis dismissed its role in the overall drop, saying that when good weather returned, violence remained low.
“I think there is really good work going on out there,’’ he said.
Davis said he has assigned more officers to work in Operation Homefront, a program in which police visit high-risk minors at home to build relationships with their families. Davis said the officers have been focusing their visits on known gang members who are likely to use guns.
The department’s gang intelligence has also improved, Davis said, as more officers show up at events organized by youth groups, like the Boys and Girls Club, and district captains attend neighborhood meetings. That kind of presence engenders trust, which leads to more tips, he said.
The department’s intelligence unit, which gathers information about gang activity and crime patterns around the city, has been sharing more information with community groups that work closely with police and other law enforcement agencies.
The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, executive director of the TenPoint Coalition, said youths and adult residents deserve some of the credit for Boston’s decrease in violence. After years of tolerating shootings near their homes, many are joining or forming small neighborhood watch groups and even mediating between feuding groups in their own communities.
“It really is the beginning of an antiviolence movement,’’ Brown said, “and it’s about time.’’
Maria Cramer can be reached at email@example.com.