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Mayor taps pair to lead antiviolence initiative

Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who faced criticism this week for his proposed gun buyback program, named a Suffolk County prosecutor and former probation officer Friday to lead a new initiative aimed at curbing violence.

Walsh said Assistant District Attorney Daniel Mulhern, chief of the office’s gang unit, and former Dorchester District Court probation officer Leon Graves would help synchronize antiviolence efforts in all city departments and devise strategies for improvements.

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The Mayor’s Safety Initiative is seen as a test for the new Walsh administration, which took control of City Hall more than five weeks ago and is confronting a string of gun crimes and violence, especially in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.

“I keep saying this: ‘We cannot arrest our way out of this problem,’ ’’ Walsh said. “We need to take a comprehensive approach to neighborhood safety, and this is an important first step.”

Mulhern and Graves are charged with recommending solutions to the root causes of violence, such as access to illegal guns, trauma among young people, and quality-of-life issues such as barriers to jobs and education. The men, who will each receive $108,000 annual salaries, will also work closely with community groups and apply for grants to fund the city’s efforts, the mayor’s office said.

Graves and Mulhern, who have worked closely over the past 15 years, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Ten people have been killed in violent crimes in Boston this year, including 9-year-old Janmarcos Pena, who was allegedly shot by his 14-year-old brother in Mattapan. That shooting, called a tragic accident by police, sparked intense public outcry about the easy availability of guns.

Shooting incidents in Boston have dropped in recent years from a high of 377 in 2006, but they have hovered around 250 incidents in each of the past four years, according to Boston Police Department data. It is a number that community activists and residents say is still far too high.

Responding to this year’s gun violence, Walsh and Police Commissioner William B. Evans said a week ago that they would resume a controversial gun buyback program, promising significant improvements over the last time the city staged a buyback in 2006.

However, in the aftermath of that announcement, advocates and criminologists said buyback programs are generally highly ineffective in quashing violence or getting guns used in crime off the streets.

On Friday, Walsh said Graves and Mulhern will initially assess all the city’s violence prevention efforts and weed out programs that do not work. Ultimately, they are to devise new strategies for reducing violence in high-crime neighborhoods.

Walsh said he did not have a timetable for Graves and Mulhern to give him their initial findings.

The initiative won some praise, but received some criticism in neighborhoods most heavily affected by crime.

The Rev. Bruce Wall of Dorchester said he will urge the mayor to hire an independent urban scholar to study violent areas of the city, appoint a member of the clergy to the administration, and establish new ways to evaluate the effectiveness of the city’s street workers, who are hired to steer at-risk youths straight.

“We are in such a crisis mode right now, a true free fall,’’ said Wall. “They are grabbing at anything and everything but nothing that really matters.”

He said the city needs a new way to approach the nature of today’s youth violence, which often starts as feuds on social media.

Monalisa Smith — who heads Mothers for Justice and Equality, an antiviolence nonprofit based in Roxbury — said she is waiting for the mayor to come through on his promise to keep grass-roots people involved in addressing the issue.

On Monday, she and members of her group met with Mulhern, police detectives, and school police to begin the steps of teaming up in their anticrime approaches.

“My concern is how will this work?’’ Smith said of Walsh’s safety initiative. “I think it’s a good idea, but is he going to utilize all the grass-roots resources that are out there?”

Robert Lewis, who led at the Boston Foundation’s StreetSafe program, said Walsh has been relying too heavily on clergy and other community leaders who have been advising the city for years, and should branch out to seek new opinions, particularly among Latino, Cape Verdean, and philanthropic groups.

“There has to be a level of ownership that extends beyond ministers and beyond the same old thing,’’ said Lewis.

Walsh’s supporters said the mayor is heading in the right direction, in listening to advocates and beginning to address their concerns.

The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, cofounder of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, said the mayor’s safety initiative is an acknowledgment of the principles that succeeded during the so-called Boston Miracle, when clergy, advocates, and police united to dramatically reduce street crime in the 1990s.

“What was working were people willing to cross lines and work together,’’ said Brown, who served on Walsh’s public safety transition team. “We’ve gotten away from that. And he understands that. He’s putting us on a path forward.”

Mulhern, a prosecutor for more than decade, served in the Suffolk district attorney’s gang unit and safe neighborhood initiative, the mayor’s office said. He is a former federal prosecutor who worked on gang-
related, firearms, and drug trafficking cases.

Graves has spent 20 years working with at-risk youngsters and taking guns off the streets. He was an aide to the late Representative Kevin Fitzgerald and has joined efforts that pulled together neighborhood health centers, community groups, law enforcement, and clergy to provide counseling for gang members. He left his probation job on Jan. 31, the Probation Department said.

Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com.
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