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New Boston police command staff takes the reins

Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans swore in what officials called the most diverse command staff in the city’s history on Tuesday, promoting 12 officers, including Superintendent-in-Chief William G. Gross, the department’s first African-American second-in-command.

“It’s something like 350 years of experience here coming onto the command staff,” Evans said of the officers’ combined years of service in remarks at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester. “I have probably the most experienced, diverse command staff that any commissioner could want, and I’m very proud of the team we’ve put together.”

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Evans and Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who also spoke, said the department would emphasize community policing in the fight against the recent spike in violence the city has seen this year, which includes Friday’s apparently accidental shooting of 9-year-old Jan Marcos Peña of Mattapan by his 14-year-old brother. Walsh repeated his promise to organize a gun buyback program.

“We’ve made progress in important areas, but everyone knows that we can’t let up, especially in the communities that are hardest hit by violence,” said Walsh. “We’ve seen recently how violence can escalate, and how destructive and tragic illegal guns can be. We have to get these illegal guns off the street.”

There were nine homicides in January, a spike over the past several years. In 2008, the city saw eight killings in January. Many of the killings appear to have been gang-related, according to police.

On Monday, the 14-year-old was held on $50,000 bail on charges of involuntary manslaughter and unlawful possession of a firearm.

While homicides are up this year compared with last year, nonfatal shootings have dropped. The overall rate of major crimes including robbery, rape, and burglary has dropped by 5 percent this year, according to Officer James Kenneally, a police spokesman.

Evans said in an interview before the swearing-in that he wants more foot and bike patrols, and officers in schools, parks, and playgrounds to interact with young people and build trust and relationships. Many said the police must work with community members.

“There’s the police end of the business, but in dealing with the police end of the business, there’s also the community end of the business,” said Superintendent Robert M. Merner, who was promoted from lieutenant detective and commander of the drug control unit to superintendent of the Bureau of Investigative Services.

His goal as superintendent, he said after the ceremony, “is to bring everything into line as far as dealing with forensics, interview, interrogation, eyewitness identification, and incorporate all of that with the philosophy of community policing.”

After the ceremony, Gross, who has been acting as superintendent-in-chief since January, said he is eager to serve, and that his top goals are to reduce gun violence and help support families — challenges that he said are intertwined.

“Our goal is this: to ensure that no family member has to lose their sons and daughters to gang or street violence,” said Gross. “We strongly believe that if we as a village come together to help families in need, their children don’t have to go outside the family to seek those extended families that we call gangs. We can’t arrest the problem away.”

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.
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