Bike patrols earn praise at Neponset

The initial police response to the recent spike in Greater Neponset crime has satisfied neighbors for now, who lavished praise on the new bicycle unit patrolling the streets at a community meeting last Wednesday with Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis.

"There's a feeling of increasing confidence already," said neighbor John Sweeney. "I think we're on the right track."

Growing safety and quality of life concerns over the summer and into the fall - highlighted by two King Street murders and a Garvey Park confrontation involving a knife and a gun - prompted a community meeting of hundreds last month and the subsequent BPD response.

"It's a phenomenal crime deterrent. It's psychological warfare," said Pope's Hill Neighborhood Association President Phil Carver about the bicycle patrols. "It reduced crime and it has also raised morale. Our community's calls were answered."

Last week's meeting at the Murphy Community Center, during which the commissioner and other civic leaders discussed anti-crime efforts, was similarly well-attended. Besides the highly-visible six-officer bike patrols and an outstanding warrant sweep that took 20 off the street, Davis described an in-progress shift in policing strategy. Davis first deployed the bike patrols after a meeting with civic leaders last month that followed the larger community meeting.

"In the past, our mission was to go out and respond to crime and to make arrests," he said. "Now it is about preventing crime. We're in the throes of re-implementing community policing."

Davis said officers assigned to Greater Neponset patrols, who often crossed district lines "to be closer to where the action is," are being instructed to remain in the neighborhood as a deterrent.

Carver believes recent police attention in higher-crime areas may have pushed problems into Greater Neponset through a displacement effect.

"It was a cause for alarm," he said.

Officers are now being encouraged to spend more time out of their cruisers and on the street, said Davis, as part of the department's "beat integrity program." The commissioner said there would be greater focus on identifying abandoned cars, trash and other factors conducive to crime and a more active partnership with the city to keep the streets clean.

In addition to the police response, neighbors recently created four committees to address community concerns. A crime task force, community center committee, parks committee and a grant writing team have all begun meeting.

Some at the forum questioned the BPD's commitment to the bike patrols. Davis said the unit would last until the end of the year and break for the winter weather. He said he would make a decision on bringing the patrol back in the spring after reviewing statistics and meeting with neighbors.

"I will keep the unit as long as it's needed," he said. "I guarantee you, I don't want to have another community meeting with 300 people at it."

The forum concluded with an impassioned request from State Trooper Brian Dunn for help controlling the behavior of youth along Gallivan Boulevard and in parks he regularly patrols, areas he described as being "held hostage."

"We're trying to avoid a tragedy, but I think a tragedy is going to happen very, very soon," he said.