Ed Davis, the newly installed commissioner of the Boston Police Department, plans to re-structure the department so that officers are more connected to residents and issues of particular city neighborhoods. The shift, to be mapped out during a transition process that already began with the foundation of an advisory committee made up of 150 officer volunteers, will include a shift from a department tendency to put resources into special units responsible for gang or drug activity to a model in which officers would be associated with specific city neighborhoods.
Davis, who is often noted as an ardent student of police theory, called this concept a return to the 'territorial imperative.'
"When officers spend a lot of time patrolling a particular neighborhood, they end up taking pride in what happens there. We want encourage that," said Davis.
Davis made his remarks during a community forum sponsored by state Rep. Marie St. Fleur and held at the Lila G. Frederick Pilot Middle School last Thursday evening. During the forum, three panelists selected to represent the specific concerns of residents in Grove Hall and other neighborhoods along Columbia Road addressed the commissioner, as did attendees from the surrounding community.
Beneath many suggestions and concerns was a desire for a stronger relationship with the officers patrolling city streets.
Elijah Williams, a 17-year old employee of the Bird Street Community Center, punctuated the sentiment by describing an experience that he says he has shared with many of his peers: being "posted up," or stopped and rudely searched by a police officer, for no reason other than being out on the street.
"It's getting to the point where no young person wants to be associated with a police officer," said 17 year-old Elijah Williams, 17, who works at the Bird Street Community Center. "I think we should create programs where police officers are not in uniform so youth don't feel intimidated, where you can go to them more as a positive influence, like sports leagues or basketball."
Davis said that standard officer training is often responsible for the perception that they act improperly in high-crime neighborhoods. When going home safely is the number one priority, said Davis, cordiality is often the first casualty.
"That is a terrible drawback of building relationships with people," said Davis.
Davis mentioned that the Boston Police Activities League was already being revived, with a slate of sports and recreational opportunities where city youths will have the opportunity to socialize with officers serving as coaches and chaperones.
Panelist Denise Gonsalves, executive director of the Cape Verdean Community Task Force, said that the department should focus on diversification.
"Responsiveness is about how you recruit, hire, and train officers that reflect the ends of the community and mirror what the community look like," said Gonsalves.
In past interviews with the Reporter, Davis has indicated that diversifying the department would be a priority, saying that he believes in a department that mirrors the population of the city it serves. The department has been actively recruiting among ethnic communities in preparation for the police exam this spring.
A third perspective came from Franklin Miller, an employee of Dorchester Bay EDC and winner of this year's Crime Fighter of the Year award from the BPD for his work on Wendover Street, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Miller spoke to the concerns of adult residents, who he said are often frustrated by a department double standard that chides them for not cooperating with officers but then exposes their involvement or leaves them out of the ongoing process.
"I myself have made calls to the police from inside my house, and then seen three or four police cars pull up out in front of my house," said Miller. "I know there are people in the community that if that came to the door, they would not say anything. There needs to be a sensitivity to what situation you're putting people in by responding."
Miller also said that his neighbors are frustrated by the lack of follow-up they see after cooperating with police officers.
Davis acknowledged the importance of protecting an informant's identity and also said that he hoped to establish an information call-in line where people could check on the status of ongoing investigations.
Davis was scheduled to meet with the Dorchester community again during a forum at the Dorchester House on Wednesday, January 10.