The year began with a burst of violence in Boston: a rash of killings in January and February that included the shooting of a 9-year-old boy, alarming residents, community leaders, and city officials.
“When that 9-year-old was shot on Morton Street, I think that was a wake-up call,” Police Commissioner William Evans said this week. “We’re putting our resources where our violence is, and I think it’s paid off.”
Since that early spike, violent crime overall has dropped 13 percent this year compared with the same period last year, a reduction that Evans attributed to targeted police work and a major effort to get guns off the streets.
But the deadly month of January, when nine people were killed, contributed significantly to an increase in homicides, with 23 killings so far this year compared to 16 at this time last year, according to police statistics. Police said many of the January killings were probably gang-related.
On Feb. 7, Janmarcos Peña, 9 years old, was killed when his 14-year-old brother, Juanly Peña, shot him in the chest in an apparent accident at their Morton Street home.
Evans said the year’s violent beginning inspired a crackdown on guns, with the city launching a gun buyback program that has so far collected 323 weapons. Officers on the streets have recovered 252 more guns. The city’s drug and gang units targeted areas where weapons have been found, he said, and bicycle units were deployed to violent areas. Since January, the monthly homicide rate has dropped.
“If you look at studies, it shows that it’s always the same places and the same kids that are driving the violence,” Evans said. “We really picked up our effort on targeting the individuals. It’s a matter of being out there.”
On Wednesday, a man who had yet to be identified was shot and killed in Dorchester near Uphams Corner.
Overall, shootings have dropped by 26 percent this year, to 58 fatal and nonfatal shootings between Jan. 1 and May 11 compared with 78 in the same period last year, according to police statistics.
Citywide, major crimes dropped by 6 percent in the same period compared with last year. Rape and attempted rape declined 26 percent; robbery and attempted robbery fell 11 percent; aggravated assault decreased 14 percent; burglary and attempted burglary plunged 24 percent; larceny and attempted larceny edged down 2 percent. Vehicle theft and attempted vehicle theft, however, rose 33 percent.
“I’m glad the numbers are down, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said.
Evans said police are working to stem the rise in vehicle theft, which he said is fueled in part by a spike in thefts of motorized scooters, which are becoming a concern in the city because they are being used more frequently to commit crimes, including drive-by shootings.
Walsh, Evans, and local leaders credited the collaborative work the city has done with community groups and clergy with helping to lower the overall crime rate.
“I feel like there is something special happening in Boston,” said Monalisa Smith, who founded Mothers for Justice and Equality, which aims to end neighborhood violence, after her nephew was shot to death in 2010.
Smith said that when she spoke to the police commissioner about the importance of officers at crime scenes empathizing with families of victims, he invited her to tell her story to police cadets.
Summer typically ushers in a rise in violence, and Evans and Walsh said they plan to focus on keeping young people busy with jobs and activities.
Walsh said the city has a goal of helping 10,000 youths to get jobs. The city is also adding about 45 new programs for youngsters to its summer lineup, he said.
The city must remain focused on keeping summertime crime down, and not just react to dramatic spikes and then lose interest, said Mark V. Scott, a public safety activist and associate pastor of Azusa Christian Community.
Constantly staying on top of smaller issues like cellphone robberies and drug needles in parks is key to keeping violence at bay, Scott said.
So far, he said, he is encouraged: He bumped into Evans at a restaurant a week ago, and the commissioner was there to discuss domestic violence. “That’s exactly where the police commissioner should be,” Scott said.