Sunday, January 21, 2007

Closing the Police-Community Gap

There’s some guardedly hopeful reaction to part of the strategy against violence mentioned in Mayor’s Menino’s State of the City speech on January 9—the advisory councils in every police district. The aims, said the mayor, were to improve communication with residents and “making sure that important information gets into the hands of the people who need it to prevent and solve crime.”

According to the associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, Jack McDevitt, similar councils have worked in other cities. “They’re another way to communicate with people,” he says. “They do tend to help, but it’s all a matter of degree.”

The CEO and president of the Louis. D. Brown Peace Institute, Clementina Chéry, says it’s a matter of who’s on the councils, and whether they’re “victim-centered.” After recent murders, Menino and Police Commissioner Ed Davis have been blunt about calling for more cooperation from the community. Chéry says the police have to do more to overcome the community’s distrust.

“It’s the same crime victims who are not talking to the police because they don’t trust the police,” says Chéry. She says a better strategy would be to have councils for crime victims—and more prevention.

Though somewhat better last year, the Boston Police Dept. rate of solving murder cases remains significantly below what it was in previous years. McDevitt says “continued focus on gun crimes is particularly important.” In his speech, the mayor also mentioned resources: plans for “more visibility where crime is on the rise” and more support for prevention.

City Councilor Charles Yancey says he also has recommended police-community advisory councils. He says many police officers still “have negative perceptions” of young males in the community, and he also mentions resources: “If we had a policy of maintaining pressure where we know we’re plagued with violence, we’ll have a better chance of controlling it.”

The executive director of Project RIGHT/Grove Hall, Jorge Martinez, says the councils might help prevent one other problem: the breakdown of communication that can happen when there’s a new district commander. “There should be a coalition put in place, so no matter who dies or gets promoted, the same relationship’s in place,” he says. He calls the advisory councils “very much needed,” and says they might have the credibility to get more information from people in the community. “If they don’t have a relationship,” he says, “it’s pretty hard to get people to come forward.”