Crime is focus of new Mattapan civic group

An effort to start up a new civic association along the border of Mattapan and Hyde Park got off to a slow start Tuesday night when only around 15 interested residents showed for a meeting representing a neighborhood of over 1,200 homes.

Inspired by a high crime rate - including a triple non-fatal shooting at Taunton Avenue and Oak Crest Road in January - teacher Ginny Allen and others, with help from Boston Police Department's District E-18, are pulling together neighbors to address crime and other problems. The new group is called the Matta Park Civic Association.

"We want to try and bring the neighborhoods on the Mattapan-Hyde Park line together. They have been separate in the past," said Allen. "We want to bring some identity to the neighborhood."

Allen said she wants to introduce neighborhood-improving ideas such as bringing a new MBTA bus line to the neighborhood, which she said is underserved by public transportation. Another idea is to set up a parent-teen job line to help teenagers get work mowing local lawns and babysitting. But at Tuesday's meeting, well attended by BPD and District Attorney's office staff, the focus was crime.

"We are going to call on you, we are going to do [what] the police want us to do and we are going to make sure that you cannot get away with murder in Hyde Park or Mattapan..." Allen told the small crowd at the Hassan Apartments on River Street. "The neighborhood has to speak up. The neighborhood has to get out, it has to organize, has to come out and say 'enough.' "

Allen said 10 unsolved murders happened inside the neighborhoods borders according to police, and a call for witnesses on one 2005 incident were on the backside of a flyer promoting the meeting. On July 15, 2005, 20-year-old University of Massachusetts-Amherst student Franklin Nwachukwu was shot and killed during a robbery on Lewiston Street in Hyde Park.

In an interview, Allen criticized the city's considerable efforts to regulate smoking when compared to its struggle against gun violence. Violent crime, she said, "has to be addressed by the city. That's the public health problem."

"The essence of a neighborhood watch program is nothing more than knowing your neighbors and communicating," said Carolyn MacNeil, new director of the Boston Police Department's Neighborhood Crime Watch Unit.

Handouts available at the meeting included contact information for individuals at the district E-18 police, the homicide unit, drug tip hotline and other services. A neighborhood watch guide listed details on resources and methods to help conduct a group.

Lt. Detective Robert M. Merner addressed the gathering to explain how the BPD homicide unit operates and encouraged residents to organize, saying that increased citizen cooperation with police will aid investigations and help lessen crime. Both Lt. Detective Merner and Sgt. Thomas S. Manning, district E-18's community service supervisor, mentioned that community cooperation with police is rare in the area, another reason for concerned citizens to organize.

"The heroes are the people that put their hand up in the courtroom and say 'that's who did it'" Merner said in an interview after he spoke at the meeting.

At-Large City Councilor Michael F. Flaherty, now a mayoral candidate, also spoke at the meeting. Flaherty, a former prosecutor, emphasized that testimony from citizen groups carry considerable weight in court. Citizen impact statements, Flaherty said, can go a long way to proving guilt.

Keeping local and state officials accountable is another benefit of having an active community organization, said District 5 City councillor Rob Consalvo. He argued that a new civic group could be a useful tool in communicating with, and holding accountable, local leaders, and acknowledged his fellow elected officials in attendance: city councillors Flaherty and Charles C. Yancey, as well as 12th Suffolk state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry.

"We are here to give you support as your elected officials... to give you support in helping to organize, to get people on the same page, working with each other, working with the police." Forry said.

The Matta Park Civic's next meeting is Monday, March 2 at Hyde Park's Elihu Greenwood School at 612 Metropolitan Ave.