BPD targets high impact ‘shooters’

An initiative launched last summer by Boston Police, in cooperation with other city and state agencies, was meant to reduce levels of gun violence in the new year by concentrating intense enforcement and social service outreach on a list of 240 of the city’s most dangerous gang members— all of whom are believed to be “shooters” for one or more of the estimated 100 street gangs now active in the city.

Details of the initiative will be discussed during a community meeting next Tuesday evening at the Mattapan Library on Blue Hill Avenue.

Boston Police Superintendent Paul Joyce outlined elements of the Partnerships Advancing Community Together (PACT) program in a meeting with Reporter staff this week at the B-3 police station. Joyce said that the initiative grew out of concerns raised by several high-profile murders last year in which teenagers unaffiliated with the city’s tapestry of street gangs were slain.

“We wanted to look at ways to raise the level of effectiveness and accountability,” Joyce told the Reporter. “Our role in this,” Joyce said, meaning the police department, “is public safety. We’re looking to arrest. But the ultimate goal is not to arrest and put a young man in jail for a long time, but how to pull him out of that lifestyle.”

Joyce, who co-authored the plan with Boston’s former Human Services chief Larry Mayes, said that the objective is to “go beyond the arrests” and to “push ourselves to think as strategically as possible” about ways to head off street violence and steer impact players into alternative paths. The three objectives of the initiative are public safety, working with families, and neighborhood rebuilding.

According to Joyce, the Police Department has identified some 3,500 young people who are believed to be active in the gangs operating across the city today. Using that number, the BPD consulted with specialized units and police commanders to narrow the list of targeted criminals to 240— all of whom are regarded as “shooters,” according to Joyce. Four of the 240 people originally posted on the list last summer have since been slain.

Joyce said that the impetus to develop the PACT program came from Mayor Menino, who expressed outrage following the murders of several young teens last year. In particular, Joyce pointed to the shooting deaths of two 14 year olds, Jaewon Martin and Nicholas Fomby-Davis, both gunned down last May in separate incidents. Both murders — along with the early-morning assassination of Soheil Turner on Dudley Street in May 2009— were incidents that Joyce says were notable for their departure from earlier instances of gang violence in which youths unaffiliated with gangs — the large majority of Boston teens— were typically not targeted by assailants.

“Some of the shootings we’re seeing are different than in earlier eras of gangs in Boston,” Joyce said. “There’s no objective to it.”

Joyce says he meets weekly with two leaders from city and state agencies that are critical to the PACT program: Boston Public Health Commissioner Barbara Ferrer and Marilyn Anderson Chase, the assistant secretary of the state’s Health and Human Services office. The three coordinate the development of the PACT process, which ,after six months in a developmental phase, is just now becoming fully operational. Joyce says he believes it will take another year for the initiative to reach its optimum level of effectiveness.

Other agencies that participate in the coordination include the offices of Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, Sheriff Andrea Cabral, the US Attorney, and other local law enforcement as well as city agencies like Inspectional Services and Code Enforcement. By tracking impact players and their households— and then showering them with multi-agency enforcement or services— the hope is to interrupt the cycle of violence that is endemic to many of the same families across generations.

Some of the casework that has already been undertaken through the PACT program is too sensitive to discuss publicly, but Joyce says that he has anecdotal evidence so far that some of the kids being targeted are listening to advice, returning phone calls, and engaging with outreach efforts.

“It’s an extremely difficult group to win over,” Joyce acknowledges. “Some people say these are throwaway kids, but they’re really not. If we want long-term change within the city, I think we can open doors.”

Tuesday’s B-3 police community meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Mattapan branch library, 1350 Blue Hill Avenue.