In Mattapan, police brass put focus on engaging youth

Will Taylor, Special to the Reporter
Mar. 13, 2014

A open meeting was held last Thursday, March 6 in the Mattapan Branch Public Library to discuss violence in the neighborhood and to engage stakeholders in a discussion about resources, prevention, and response. In attendance were police officers, community organizers, and non-profit leaders, who fielded questions from local residents.

A large contingent from the B-3 Boston Police Department, which serves Mattapan and Dorchester, spoke first and took questions from the audience. Police identified community engagement as a Boston Police Department priority and were met with general support, though some residents expressed skepticism about changes in the department.

“One of our strategies is being really involved with the young people…we’re still trying to have the youth dialogues and build relationships with [at risk] kids,” said BPD Deputy Superintendent Nora Baston.

The police touted existing prevention and response programs already in place that seek to curb violence in the near- and long-term. A gun buyback program is scheduled to begin later this month, which will allow individuals to trade guns and ammunition for gift cards. One police officer reported the same program successfully retrieved 1,006 guns when it was last implemented, in 2006. Crime Stoppers is a program for individuals to submit anonymous tips, which police insisted often lead to solving open cases.

Returning to the theme of a community-wide effort, however, Baston reminded the group, “If everyone else is just sitting around waiting for the gun to be bought back, you know that’s not gonna happen.”

A couple of attendees voiced concerns that the police are no longer as familiar or friendly as they used to be, and that they no longer have a specific police officer reliably patrolling their neighborhood. Superintendent Randall Halstead countered that the nature of crime has changed in recent decades, and police efforts are now focused on a smaller set of more mobile criminals.

“You might not see us out on the one-to-one basis dealing with the public as much as you would like to see, but the important thing for us now is to deal with that 1-2 percent that are causing the problems. That’s where our attention goes to. That’s why crime has gone down 5 percent,” said Halstead, referring to a citywide drop in part one, or serious, crimes in the last year.

Other speakers included a Youth-Police Dialogue Coordinator at the YWCA and a representative from the Boston Public Health Commission’s Violence Intervention and Prevention program, who each spoke to community and non-profit initiatives to reduce violence and provide support to affected families in Mattapan.

Karleen Porcena, who organized the meeting in her role with the non-profit Mattapan United, says showcasing resources across different sectors and having an open dialogue is the main goal of meetings like these. Porcena was impressed with the turnout of police, which was high, but emphasized the importance of having other parties speak as well.

“I think what was evident at that meeting is that it is not only the responsibility of the law enforcement. There were various groups working to support and protect this community…It’s a collective effort,” said Porcena.

Editor’s Note: The District B-3 Crime Advisory Meeting will be held on Wed., March 19, at the Joseph Lee School, 155 Talbot Ave., Dorchester. Residents and merchants are invited to attend to meet members of the out and Boston Police Command Staff. Dinner is served at 5 p.m. The meeting begins at 6 p.m.