Davis plans to revamp command setup

By 
Bill Forry and Patrick McGroarty
Feb. 9, 2007

Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis unveiled a plan last week that will fundamentally recalibrate the BPD's command structure, creating three policing zones in the city and an expanded crime analysis system aimed at diversifying and improving the city's response to trends across the neighborhoods. The plan, largely obscured in the fog of last week's cartoon marketing ploy gone-bad, represents a bold move for a big city commissioner with two just months on the job and gives new insight into the leadership style of the man charged with confronting escalating gun violence.

"This is a big step," Davis acknowledged in an interview at his office on Monday. "It moves chains of command and it moves similar functional responsibility in line. I think this is probably the most significant change that I intend to make."

In a management move that will be implemented in the next two weeks, Davis has clustered the city's 12 police districts into three geographic zones, each supervised by a single deputy superintendent. Locally, Dorchester's district C-11 and B-3 (which includes Mattapan) are clustered with Roxbury's B-2 and South Boston's C-6 in zone two. Davis said he expected to make appointments for the deputy superintendent jobs later this week.

The zone clusters, Davis says, are aimed at eliminating jurisdictional communication problems that can handicap big-picture strategies.

"In the past there was a division between Area B and Area C even though the problems clearly cross those borders. By having one person in charge of those areas, there'll be a continuity of logic to the provision of services there that will further improve service," says Davis.

Still, Davis contends that the deputy superintendent named to supervise the five individual districts in zone two, for example, will play a less important role than the district captains.

"[The Deputy Superintendent] is there to provide resources and coordinate. The contact people who are in charge of the provision of service are going to be the captains that are assigned to those districts. This is your area- tell us what you need. The role of the deputy is really to provide that to the best of their ability."

One high-ranking police official told the Reporter this week that the plan is getting mixed reviews from commanders, some of whom are concerned that the zone structure adds a new layer of bureaucracy without necessarily adding results.

"I don't see how this gives any more control" at the district level, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. "I think many are holding (judgment) until we see the people he puts in (to the deputy superintendent) jobs."

On Monday, Davis told the Reporter that the strategy would actually give district commanders more latitude to deal with quality of life problems on their watch.

"I think if there's any perception that this will be a centralized authority, that should be put to rest. What we're doing is de-centralizing decision making in the organization, right to the level of patrol officers," Davis explained.

The power of district captains - whose decision-making authority have varied under changing administrations at Schroeder Plaza - waned considerably under Davis's predecessor, Kathleen O'Toole. Last summer, in the wake of O'Toole's departure, the BPD was rocked by the simultaneous transfer of nine district commanders and the sudden transfer of a tenth from his C-11 post. The dramatic re-shuffling of neighborhood-based command staff further consolidated power at headquarters and away from the district level. Critics have said that this move towards a more centralized, rigid command structure has dulled innovation at district stations, which were key proving grounds for anti-violence and community policing initiatives of the 1990s.

Davis said this week that another key provision of his restructuring, a bi-weekly analysis meeting dubbed COMPSTAT, is aimed at making violence prevention a key plank of his administration. While such meetings have long been held at police headquarters for senior command staff, Davis envisions widening the group to include other city agencies that can help police with their chief mission: reducing gun crimes and the associated homicides that continue to plague several city neighborhoods.

"The big innovation here is going to be pull to both sides of the house together in coordinating the response to criminal activity," Davis says.

"It's an opportunity to sit down at a table with people who have different areas of expertise and lay a problem out and say, 'OK, how are we going to address this as an organization,'" said Davis, who said probation officers, city corporation counsel and representatives from the District Attorney's office would be invited to participate. Also at the table, he says, will be agencies like the city's Inspectional Services Department (ISD), which can be instrumental in responding to problem properties before they become crime scenes.

The planned relocation of the BPD's Youth Violence Task Force to the former headquarters of the now-defunct Boston Municipal Police on Hancock Street -also rolled out last week in Davis's announcement - will help members of the task force stay in communication across the various districts to which they are assigned. The re-use of the Kane Square building is also an acknowledgement that the nearby Bowdoin-Geneva area remains a large target on Davis's radar screen.

"If you look at the statistics, Bowdoin and Geneva streets have been a continual hot-spot for us over the years. We decided it would be helpful to house them there. It puts them closer to the action, and gives people a sense of permanency in that neighborhood of police resources."

Davis says that while reinforced patrols of Bowdoin-Geneva- instituted after a flurry of shootings on New Years Day- will soon be downsized, he expects to replace them with a "beat team" approach in the area. The tactic, which involves a group of six officers and a sergeant patrolling a sector on foot in a sustained way, is modeled on a similar team now active in Mission Hill.

"I think that's a model that's admirable and as we go down the road, looking towards small teams of officers in troubled areas on a sustained deployment is the way I'd like to go," Davis told the Reporter.

"Our mission is to drive down shootings and the attendant homicides and we're going to concentrate on that. When it comes to deployment decisions, we're going to concentrate on saving lives. People will have parochial interests in various areas and everyone wants to see a policeman on the corner, but people are dying and we have to address that."

With his daunting mission laid out quite starkly, Davis is nonetheless realistic about his expectations for results in his first year at the helm. In fact, Davis tells the Reporter he actually expects that the number of shootings recorded in '07 could double, the result of highly accurate gunfire sensor equipment approved by the City Council last week and expected to be online by the summer.

"We have to be prepared for that as an organization and the city needs to be prepared, because it's not going to look good for the city. But I think for the first time we're going to get a real handle on exactly what the problem is because we're going to get good solid data on where the problem is happening," said Davis.