By Bill Forry
A joint law enforcement and community initiative
to target gun violence and quality of life problems
in one of the city's most crime-challenged
corridors is ratcheting up its efforts this year.
The Washington Street/Talbot Avenue Safe
Neighborhood Initiative (SNI) has begun a series of
community-wide meetings aimed at prioritizing
hot-spots and coordinating a response between
police, prosecutors and community-based
The SNI, one of several now in operation across
the city, covers a slice of Dorchester that has
seen some of the worst street violence in recent
years. Its territory is bounded by Columbia Road to
the north and Armandine Street to the south and
stretches west to Blue Hill Avenue and east to
Washington Street. The group brings together
representatives of various city, state and federal
law enforcement agencies, along with prosecutors,
to meet monthly with residents, merchants and
existing community groups in the area.
"The primary goal is to reduce violent crime,"
says Adam Gibbons, the project manager of the SNI.
"With the understanding that crime is not just
solved through suppression and prosecution but also
through community wealth, resources and
Gibbons, who lives in Dorchester just outside of
the SNI's coverage area, was hired last fall to
manage the initiative. The federally-funded group
has had an active steering committee since May
2006, but - until Gibbons was hired - lacked a full
time person to coordinate its activities.
Under Gibbons, who is based at an office at 450
Washington St., committee members hope that the
group will now find its bearings and eventually
have an impact on crime-related problems in the
"It's a big job. We're getting there. We're not
a cohesive group just yet," says Joan McCoy, who
leads the Community Improvement Association near
Codman Square. "I know that we're there to help
prevent, control and reduce violent crime, but we
haven't yet addressed a strategy."
According to Gibbons and other SNI leaders,
developing a consensus about precisely what the
group is and what issues it should tackle is the
first job of the new year. That process began with
a Jan. 9 meeting held at the Perkins Community
Center on Talbot Avenue. About 80 people attended
the meeting, in which Gibbons explained the
background of an SNI and broke the room into small
groups to discuss common concerns. Also on hand to
speak to the assembly were Suffolk County District
Attorney Dan Conley and B-3 police commander Capt.
Alison Carter Marlow, who runs ABCD's Dorchester
Neighborhood Service Center on Claybourne Street
and sits on the SNI steering committee, said it was
a good first step.
"I think we did a really good job of reaching
out to a wide spread of folks. It's important that
people are talking to each other and are not so
isolated," says Carter Marlowe. "We need to help
the community vision what's possible. It can be
A second meeting is scheduled for Thursday Feb.
21 from 6-8 p.m. at the Boys and Girls Club, 15
According to Gibbons, the Trotter Institute at
UMass-Boston will be another new asset for the
organization in 2008. The institute will provide
technical support to the SNI, including fresh data
on the demographics of the area.
"It's going to really help us to have academic
partners who can produce consolidated information
to understand who we are as a community in terms of
not just our crime, but our many cultures and
services," Gibbons said.
Jorge Martinez, who is the director of Grove
Hall's Project R.I.G.H.T., says that his
organization developed out of a similar SNI model
launched in that Dorchester village more than a
decade ago. The lessons from Grove Hall and other
SNI models employed in places like Bowdoin-Geneva,
Dudley Street and East Boston should prove helpful
to the emerging one in Washington-Talbot.
The early months, Martinez says, may prove to be
the most challenging.
"It's about getting the partners on the same
page," Martinez said. "The community folks need to
feel they have a valid voice and are on the equal
footing with the law enforcement.
"It's one thing to want leadership, it's another
to show you have the leadership and commitment.
They need to be transparent and get their agenda
onto the table and own whatever decisions they
According to Joan McCoy, that's still a work in
"My personal hope is that somehow through
residents we can help improve the quality of life
and I think that is really what will make a
difference in the crime stats," McCoy says. "I want
to see us focus on the broken window theory- that
when you're in a neighborhood with a lot of litter,
Helping police and prosecutors focus on where to
direct their resources is part of the discussion.
But, the SNI will also have a direct role in
building capacity through mini-grants that help
existing agencies pay for jobs for outreach workers
and other services. The so-called "weed and seed"
hopes to permanently uproot criminal activity and
replace it with a long-term alternative.
"People are seeing that violence is happening
and the immediate gratification is to solve the
case and put that person away. That's real and it
needs to be emphasized," says Carter Marlow. "The
seeding piece is much more powerful, because
planting those seeds will mean children who might
turn into would-be criminals can make good
Adam Gibbons says that the community members,
ultimately, will set the direction of the effort
and have the largest voice in its decisions.
"There's no end in sight for this SNI and we are
interested in developing a clear role for ourselves
in the community in partnership with other
community groups. We're very attentive to and
committed to not duplicating what's out there, but
rather augment what's out there, in addition to
offering things that aren't quite out there."
The real difference, Gibbons says, is that the
SNI creates a forum where "power brokers" meet
regularly with residents to share information and
strategize on solutions.
"The SNI has those power brokers at the table
with residents," Gibbons says. "They can initiate a
specialized, coordinated effort to address a
specific problem. There's information in DA's
office that they're not necessarily going to share
with anyone, but when the DA is meeting regularly
with the police and residents that they are then
familiar with, it enables sharing of information
and coordination of joint efforts."
"It's complex trying to connect various
neighborhoods, but we're thinking long-term," said
Gibbons. "This is a community that has struggled
for 30 years. It's diverse, but it has been
economically depressed for past two or three
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