January 11, 2023
Boston Police officers are once again walking the beat along Bowdoin Street and Geneva Avenue this winter in response to community requests for increased visibility.
Citing an infusion of 16 new officers late last year from the Boston Police Academy that made it possible to beef up the deployment, District C-11 Capt. Shawn Burns said that after a field training period, two officers, Anildo Miranda and Jade Cheek, started walking the streets two weeks ago.
“Officer visibility is a big thing and getting people on the street is a goal of mine,” said Burns, who took command at C-11 last summer. “This has been at the forefront for me, especially for Bowdoin-Geneva because they’ve’ been very intent about getting visibility. We’re not going to dictate how we police communities. We’re going to work with the community and see what they want.”
Added police presence has been an urgent request from residents, civic organizations, and merchants along the Bowdoin-Geneva corridor in recent months. Vagrancy, mental health issues, and crime started to intensify on Bowdoin last year, according to Main Streets director Haris Hardaway and Cape Verdean Association (CVA) president Paulo Debarros. The two organizations helped to form a task force that began meeting monthly last fall with 21 dedicated members.
The group wrote a letter to Mayor Wu and Police Commissioner Michael Cox with several requests, including the posting of a stationary patrol car, better lighting, repaired sidewalks, improved sanitation, and police walking beats.
“There were things happening inside the businesses, and residents and businesses were worried about what they saw,” said Hardaway. “There was intimidation to some shopkeepers, with them being on the receiving end of those threats. We had threats made to people, me being one of them.
He added: “We wanted to focus on things that could get done and would help. One was a walking beat. We were told we would never get that.”
Debarros said getting the beat is seen as a clear victory for the community. “We did three walks with officials after the letter, and on those walks they heard a lot from the merchants and they heard it had become a real struggle,” he said.
“I think the partnership is there. The walking beat is a big win, and we hope to get one for the evening hours, too. I’m glad the captain paid attention to language needs because there is a Cape Verdean officer on the walking beat. There is also a female officer, and that’s important, too, because there are a lot of single mothers on Bowdoin-Geneva. The captain heard us loud and clear.”
Walking beats have worked before on the Bowdoin-Geneva district, bolstered by hiring a police liaison to the Cape Verdean community. Debarros said long-time members of the community will still seek out the officers who were on the beat with concerns, and he hopes that will transfer over to Officers Miranda and Cheek as they get acclimated.
“We’ve always had a good relationship with the BPD,” he said. “It was rocky years ago, but we worked that out…It’s different here than areas that complain about the police. Everyone here wants the police.”
Burns said both officers are enthusiastic about the assignment, which they requested. They are posted there on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A key next step, Hardaway said, is using the officers to help summon better mental health services. “This area is saturated with supportive housing and people who are chronically homeless,” he noted. “Sometimes they have mental health issues, and they aren’t getting support for them, and we end up having the Police Department be the end-all and be-all. That doesn’t work. The businesses do what they can, but there needs to be support and housing tailored to each person.”
Debarros said many of the homeless in the area are former residents who either moved or whose family members passed away, leaving them with nowhere to go.
“I think the presence of the walking beats have shown everyone the police are here,” he said. “They can do community policing work, but there also has to be some enforcement. We want it to be a holistic approach with ISD and Public Works, too…Now we have to see the work. The two officers will be the ones showing this is needed and that it works in how they perform their jobs here.”
Burns believes it will be a success, adding that a high priority for him is to get more walking beats in other areas that have requested them.
“I’m really happy we’re able to do this, but this isn’t the only neighborhood in Dorchester’s C-11 district asking for this,” he said.