By Bill Forry
A Boston Police deployment that saturates city
villages with targeted, daily foot patrols is
getting strong reviews from community activists
after its first full year of implementation. First
employed in the spring of 2007 - and then launched
more broadly in several Dorchester and Mattapan
villages last summer - Operation Safe Streets has
become the signature strategy of Commissioner
Edward Davis's two-year-old administration and is
likely to expand into new sections of the city in
coming months - including Uphams Corner.
The deployment plan consists of a regular team
of five police officers and one sergeant who embed
themselves into a targeted business district and
adjacent residential areas between the hours of 4
and 11 p.m. The Safe Street teams - equipped with
marked cruisers or bicycles, depending on the
weather - are not expected to field radio calls,
but rather to dismount and engage local merchants
and residents on a wide range of quality-of-life
Locally, the patrols are deployed every day in
Bowdoin-Geneva, Grove Hall, Codman Square, and the
Morton-Talbot corridor that straddles Dorchester
Davis, who borrowed elements of the initiative
from one that he engineered as police chief in
Lowell, says that the Boston version is bearing
"This is a strategy that's been proven effective
over the last year and we believe it will be
effective for the long-haul," Davis told the
Reporter this week. "We believe the Safe Streets
teams are driving a 17 percent reduction in
property crime and a 9 percent reduction in violent
Davis said that the reduction stats were based
on a comparison between 2007 and 2008.
Specific data on the effectiveness of the Safe
Streets teams were not available to the Reporter
this week, but activists, merchants and neighbors
who have been monitoring public safety over many
years agree that, anecdotally at least, the
deployment has had a direct and positive
Davida Andelman, a Bowdoin-Geneva activist and a
sometimes tough critic of past police tactics, has
"It has been effective," said Andelman. "Can it
be even more effective? Sure it can. The group
that's out here now are engaging and interacting
with people in the neighborhoods a thousand percent
more than they have in the past. It's great."
That sort of endorsement is typical in
Bowdoin-Geneva and Codman Square, two Dorchester
villages where the threat of gun violence and
street-level drug trade once loomed. Along
Washington Street, Codman's always bustling main
drag, the presence of multiple police cruisers and
officers each evening has sent a message that cops
are in control of the sidewalks.
Cynthia Loesch spoke at the
roll-out of the Safe Streets teams in Codman Square
in August 2007, as Commissioner Ed Davis and Mayor
Tom Menino looked on. Photo by Bill
"I wouldn't say it's perfect, but overall it's
had a positive impact," said Cynthia Loesch,
president of the Codman Square Neighborhood
Council. Loesch, who spoke when Davis and Mayor Tom
Menino announced the Safe Streets expansion on
Codman Common last August, said that civic leaders
- especially teens - have played a key role in the
evolution of the teams.
"A lot of work we've done is in re-training
officers," Loesch said. "Whatever training they're
getting at the academy is not about community
policing. They need to know more about
Loesch, 23, said that a group of Safe Streets
officers meet weekly with the B.O.L.D. Teens
program at Codman Square Health Center. The
officers - who often attend meetings in civilian
clothes and sometimes in their free time - plan
recreational events, like a recent bowling outing
to Hyde Park. Mostly, Loesch said, they have been
able to break down barriers to trust on both
"The young people are getting to know that the
officers have kids and families and are normal,"
she said. "The officers benefit from it too. They
view the neighborhood differently and I like that
idea. That is true violence prevention and
Sergeant Lucas Taxter, who supervises District
C-11's Codman Square team, says that partnership
with the teen group has been valuable.
"They act as recruiters for us," Sgt. Taxter
said Tuesday as he stood on a Washington Street
corner. "They bring in their friends and some of
these kids may never have had contact with police
officers at all. That's one of the goals here: To
get people more comfortable to associate with
As Taxter talks, there is ready evidence that
the four cops set up in front of the Citizens Bank
branch have taken that mission to heart. They wave
at honking motorists, engage in chit-chat with
customers heading in to use the ATM and help guide
a confused motorist out of a bus stop and into a
legal parking spot. Their posture is laid back. But
for the uniforms and sidearms, they might be just
another group of neighbors hanging out.
"We've had people tell us that they haven't seen
the square this quiet in 30 years," says Taxter.
Then he corrects himself. Quiet isn't really the
right word, he acknowledges, because this place is
really buzzing with people&emdash;families,
customers, kids on bikes. "More secure," he says.
"That's what it is."
Richard Heath, an organizer at the Codman Square
Neighborhood Development Corporation, agrees. Heath
walks the business district with Safe Street
officers to point out trouble spots at NDC
properties. The organization controls two
storefronts along Washington Street and owns five
residential developments near the business
"From my point of view, they've been extremely
helpful in weeding out unpleasant people and
activities at our properties. It wouldn't have
happened with out them," Heath said. "It's like a
lot of things in life, they're only as good as you
make them. I've gone out of my way to get to know
them and to set up walk-arounds in the square on a
monthly basis, for a half-hour or 45 minutes. That
has made a difference for both of us."
Codman Square, which straddles the police
district boundary between districts C-11 and B-3
actually boasts two distinct teams, one from each
district. The result is a heavy presence that, on
one recent Friday evening, resembled a police
encampment near the intersection of Washington
Street and Aspinwall Road. Sgt. Taxter says that
the corner serves as a de facto base for the teams,
who then fan out on foot or bicycle into local side
streets. The C-11 officers make it a point to visit
Wainwright Park, a source of complaints about
loitering and gunplay in years past. The team
usually ends its night back in the business
district to make sure that the 11 p.m. closing of a
Washington Street tavern goes smoothly.
Rev. Bruce Wall, who walks the Codman Square
area each Friday evening, says that the police
presence has helped to effectively curbed illicit
activity along the main street.
Wall, who has periodically called for a citywide
state of emergency in response to gun violence,
believes that his advocacy helped to make Codman a
bigger priority for the department.
"As long as someone's making noise, they'll be
out here," Wall said. "The problem is, there's no
comprehensive plan to sustain this."
Davis responds that sustaining the Safe Streets
deployments where they presently exist is not a
question. Most teams are manned by new officers
specifically dedicated to them and they don't take
other overtime assignments. Each officer volunteers
for the posting. The mayor, Davis added, is
committed to keeping the deployment permanent and
even expanding it when necessary.
"Nothing was taken away from rapid response or
specialty units," he said.
Captain John Greland, District C-11's commander,
says that the permanent nature of the teams allow
him to focus more resources elsewhere.
"The big difference when I had just one or two
officers up [in Codman] was that it became
a chore with manpower issues. [The Safe Street
Teams] are separate. If a Safe Street Team
member is off I don't replace it with an overtime
guy. They don't go into my minimum manning that I
have to maintain."
There are limits, of course, to how much ground
the teams can cover. And there is clearly demand
for more of them. A group of activists in Uphams
Corner has been quietly lobbying Davis to set up a
team in their neighborhood.
This week, Davis confirmed that he intends to
order a new team to take up patrol there by
December, when 30 new cadets are expected to be
sworn in as officers.
"[Uphams] is also an area where patrol
and service units will be going through regularly,"
Davis said. "There will be more than six officers
assigned there because of routine patrols.
"We've been predicating these assignments on the
level of crime in neighborhoods and we'll look at
the next one up statistically and look at whether
we have the resources," said Davis, who notes that
in addition to Dorchester and Mattapan, the BPD
maintains teams in Downtown Crossing, Boston Common
and East Boston.
Bowdoin-Geneva's Andelman says that the
improvement in her neighborhood has been "not so
much quantity as it is quality of interaction."
There's still room for improvement in that area,
she said. "If they could spend a little more time
with people that'd be great," Andelman said. Still,
she said she has gotten to know all of the street
team officers on a first-name basis.
Bill Walczak, who founded the Codman Square
Health Center 30 years ago and remains the center's
executive director, said that the Safe Streets
Teams in Codman have been a major morale boost for
"The business district had problems in a couple
of blocks, but really the square was never really
that dangerous. But people really were afraid
because of problems near there," says Walczak.
"What the presence of the police officers has done
is given a lot more confidence that Codman Square's
okay. You don't have to worry about coming here.
There's a general sense that things aren't as bad
as they were."
Most impressive, Walczak said, is the
consistency of the deployment. Past operations
often began with a big show of force and bodies,
but gradually fizzled out.
"You have to say that Davis has been able to
pull off what no other police commissioner could do
before," says Walczak.
cops gain new footing with "Safe Street" teams -
Sept. 20, 2007
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