Boston’s police commissioner had his hands full last Thursday with last-minute logistics for that night’s big celebration along the Charles River, which had been moved up one day due to a forecast of inclement weather on Independence Day. But William Evans remained focused on his chief goal for the holiday weekend: “Making sure nobody gets shot.”
“We’ll have a lot of officers deployed tonight on the Esplanade to assist the State Police, but honestly, our priority is the neighborhoods and we’re putting a lot of resources into making sure this weekend is a safe one,” Evans told the Reporter on Thursday morning.
Unfortunately, there was a double-shooting on Lawrence Avenue on July 5. One person was in serious condition after an unknown gunman fired into an outdoor barbeque that stretched into Sunday morning. Another person suffered a less serious wound the next day, Sunday.
“We had three people shot over the four-day weekend,” Evans said on Tuesday. “Three always concerns us, but compared to last year when we had 12 shot over the weekend, or the 22 shot in 2011, by comparison we had a good weekend.”
Evans is loath to compare his city’s experience to that of other cities, especially Chicago, which has a population nearly four times the size of Boston’s. But after a hellish weekend in the Windy City in which 12 people were murdered and 82 were shot – including five by police – the relative order maintained in Boston’s neighborhoods was notable.
“For us, it definitely helps to have the two nights combined into one,” said Evans, referring to the city’s decision to condense the two-night Boston Pops concerts into a single event on July 3. A northbound hurricane named Arthur prompted the switch. The threatening weather also eased the overall burden on the police, as outdoor plans were largely cancelled on Friday.
“I didn’t want too many resources down by the Esplanade. I wanted officers out in the parks and the playgrounds and I think that visibility really helped us throughout the weekend,” said Evans. “We had a lot of deployment and extra resources out – the gang unit and drug unit was out. A lot of them had to give up a good part of their weekend.
“We were busy with fireworks calls and party calls, but we really gear up for it,” he added. “In all sections of the city I put a lot of extra cars on and we were able to handle the volume of calls.”
Last Monday, Evans and Mayor Marty Walsh announced plans to plug all 54 newly sworn-in police officers from the latest recruit class into the three police districts that cover Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. Evans told the Reporter that 20 new officers will be dispatched to Area C-11, another 20 are headed for B-2 (Roxbury), and the rest will be based at B-3, which covers Mattapan and parts of Dorchester, including the Blue Hill Avenue corridor.
“Our goal is to boost visibility in the places where we’ve seen the most violence, especially in June, July, and August,” said Evans. “City-wide, shootings were down in June, which is good. We have seen a 35 percent decrease in shootings over last year. We still have four more homicides citywide than last year, but overall violent crime is down 13 percent.
“Our strategy is to go after the people driving the violence and to be in the places where it happens – and that appears to be working very well,” said Evans. “If things heat up in a certain place, we’ll put in more bike patrols. I want bikes in the playgrounds and I’ve told the officers that I want them getting out of their cars and walking the playgrounds and parks, too.”
In past years, police have sometimes conducted warrant sweeps before holiday weekends and special events like the Caribbean Carnival in August to take “impact players” off the streets for less serious violations. In advance of July Fourth, Evans said, the BPD did not employ that tactic.
“Since the young boy [Jan Marcos Peña, age 9] was shot in Mattapan by his brother, I think there’s been a wake-up call. We have been going after these players pretty hard since then,” Evans said, pointing to the seizure of more than 700 guns – either through arrests or through a new gun buy-back program that commenced earlier this year.
“We just need everybody on board. I want the public to realize the amount of hard work that is happening. We’ve already surpassed the number of guns taken off the street in all of last year. But people also need to understand the volume of guns that are still out there is still big.”