The shooting of five young men on Washington Street two years ago sent a wave of fear throughout Egleston Square, a largely Hispanic enclave with small family businesses, senior housing, and dense multifamily residences.
Days after the incident, Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis announced he would increase community policing efforts there by assigning a walking beat officer. Carlos Martinez, who grew up in the neighborhood, was put on the job.
“I think I’m made for it: I like to talk; I can talk about anything,’’ Martinez said Tuesday. He appears to be a natural for the job, spending hours chatting in English and Spanish and sometimes walking as far as 15 miles.
“It’s kind of ironic,’’ he said. “When I became a police officer, I never wanted to come to Jamaica Plain, because I knew too many people here. . . . But for the most part, they have that respect for you, because they want you to succeed. Being from here helps out, because it’s not like they’re saying: ‘Who are you? You just come here when something bad happens.’ ’’
Martinez moved with his family from Puerto Rico to Jamaica Plain in 1972, when he was 2.
Davis, counting more than 140,000 walking beats in the city last year, wants to add at least 60,000 more in 2012. He also wants to add social media to the beat, with an initiative dubbed “Tweet from the Beat.’’
That effort currently involves only command staff, and there are at least a dozen deputies and superintendents with Twitter handles.
There are numerous objectives the department wants to accomplish with the social media tool, primarily reaching the community at large with unfiltered information, networking with the community on problem solving, and sending out advisories on police-sponsored events aimed at community building.
On Tuesday, Martinez’s supervisor, Deputy Nora Baston, tweeted as she accompanied him on the beat on Washington Street. She snapped a photograph with high school students on their lunch break, after talking with them about summer job prospects. Seconds later, she downloaded the photo on her Twitter account, @DeputyBaston, and included the phrase “Talking to a group of youth about summer jobs.’’
Baston posted another tweet, “It’s all about building great relationships’’ and added a photograph of Martinez, a wide smile on his face, with customers inside a hair salon.
“Tweeting is a valuable tool,’’ Baston said. “We have a lot of events that we invite the community to.’’
Baston is one of the main supervisors of the walking beat program across the city, instilling in those officers the department’s expectations on how to best interact with merchants and residents.
With Martinez, the Boston Police Department has a prototypical community beat officer, a patrolman familiar with his territory who can easily forge relationships that dissolve barriers and, in effect, lessen crime, Baston said.
“We’d like to duplicate what he’s been able to accomplish here throughout the city,’’ she said.
Baston said Martinez, who walks the beat daily, is often missed by the community on his days off.
“It’s a whole different vibe, a certain element comes out in his absence, and I get calls from some businesses,’’ she said.
Betsy Cowan - executive director of the Egleston Square Main Street, a nonprofit agency with a mission to “promote, preserve, and revitalize Egleston Square’’ - called Martinez an “economic generator.’’
“In these times, everyone is looking at how to do more with less,’’ Cowan said.
“One walking officer has helped to generate so much more economic activity in the neighborhood, without a doubt.’’
Several business owners agreed, saying Martinez’s presence has had an impact.
“He’s walking the beat and keeping a lot of the trouble down, noise down, keeping things clear around here, so it’s been a big difference since he’s been around,’’ said Robert Lawson, owner of Lawson’s Barber Shop, which opened in 1966.
Sandy Tran, who owns several businesses on Washington Street, said community policing is important because residents and business owners get to know the officer and are encouraged to call him if they have problems.
“Not as many people hanging out around here now causing problems,’’ she said.