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Crackdown cuts crime in Southie

Drug crackdown follows slaying

Boston police have arrested 222 people and issued summonses to dozens more in South Boston since launching a drug crackdown several weeks after the drug-related murder of a grandmother in her home last April, according to authorities.

“We’ve made a major dent,’’ declared Boston police Commissioner Edward F. Davis in a phone interview Friday.

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The arrests, along with the issuance of 51 summonses, have not only reduced the open-air drug activity that has plagued busy areas such as Andrew Square and Preble Circle, but have diminished other crimes, such as robberies and prostitution, Davis said. Those crimes, he said, are usually linked with illegal drug activity.

From April 16 through last Monday in District C-6, there was a 27 percent decrease in the most serious crimes, compared with the same time frame in 2011, said Lieutenant Detective Robert Merner, commander of the Police Department’s Drug Control Unit. Those crimes, referred to by police as “part one crimes,” include homicide, aggravated assault, rape, burglary, robbery, larceny, and vehicle theft. Overall, part one crime in the district has dipped 12 percent from the start of 2012, compared with 2011.

The death of longtime resident Barbara Coyne, 67, sparked outrage by residents, and led to a community meeting days later at Tynan Elementary School that drew a large crowd.

Many residents who attended that meeting, including Bill Hurld, former president of the South Boston Little League, said that rampant drug dealing had thrown their community into a downward spiral of crime.

“There was a big change almost immediately,” Hurld said Friday in a phone interview. “I got up and told police during that meeting that prostitution was a big problem on Dorchester Avenue, and the next day, they’re out there and the prostitutes are gone. Drug activity has really dropped, from what I’ve observed,’’ said Hurld, 60, who works security at Fenway Park.

Coyne was stabbed to death April 16 inside her East Seventh Street home. Timothy Kostka, 27, a reputed drug addict who lives in the neighborhood, was charged with the homicide, and is in jail awaiting trial. Prosecutors say he had hoped to steal her son’s valuable fishing gear, then sell it to pay for drugs.

Merner said the ongoing sweeps are conducted by a unit of seven officers, often with the aid of the DEA and other Police Department officers from the Youth Violence Strike Force, doing surveillance and undercover buys. Most offenders are arrested for possession of prescription drugs, such as Percocet and Oxycodone, and crack cocaine. Although enforcement has been concentrated on Andrew Square and Preble Circle, the ongoing sweeps include other areas as well.

The majority of those arrested live in South Boston or in nearby communities.

Merner said he realizes that some of those arrested will return to the streets and continue dealing drugs, but the department has a multifaceted approach that attempts to link offenders to treatment programs and services and that educates people who legally receive prescription drugs that it is illegal to sell them.

“Without question, there has been a dramatic improvement in the neighborhood,” said state Senator Jack Hart, a South Boston resident whose district includes the neighborhood.

Hart said residents have taken an active role in helping to decrease drug activity, by calling police whenever they see signs of it.

“The police have commended the residents for doing this, because the police can’t do it alone; they can’t stand on every corner to monitor drug activity,” he said.

Ninety percent of the arrests were for drug distribution or possession with intent to distribute. Police made 144 arrests in the first three months of the crackdown and 157 since then, according to police.

“We understand that there are other trouble spots around the city, but in countless conversations with the commissioner and Merner, they’ve assured us they will continue to dedicate as many resources as necessary,’’ Hart said.

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.
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