Responding to a rising tide of city street violence that has resulted in four homicides in the last six days - including the fatal shooting of a Dorchester teenager outside a party yesterday morning - Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O’Toole yesterday unveiled a five-step action plan designed to reverse the trend.
“I’m very troubled by the senseless tragedies that continue to plague us, particularly those involving our youth,” O’Toole said in a statement released by the department yesterday. “It is too early to determine whether this is another random spike in violence or if a pattern is emerging.”
Harlan Harris, 16, the latest victim, was shot three times about 12:15 a.m. yesterday during an argument outside a Dorchester house party, according to witnesses and police. Harris was left to die bleeding in a gutter near the intersection of Morton and Theodore streets, police said.
No one has been arrested in connection with the crime, or with three other fatal shootings last week. Harris was the 22d homicide victim in Boston this year. The number of homicides to date exceeds any year since 1997, police said.
O’Toole outlined five steps she will take this week to address the spike in violence: meetings with religious leaders, an “emergency meeting” with a Cape Verdean organization, meetings with youth groups, an internal discussion with police commanders, and a move to expand the city’s reentry initiative for former convicts.
Prevention efforts “will only succeed if we work collaboratively,” O’Toole said in calling for the meetings between law enforcement officials and youth groups, church leaders, and community organizations, including an emergency meeting with leaders of the Cape Verdean Community Task Force.
One victim, Christian Deburgo, 21, was Cape Verdean. He was shot Friday outside his Dorchester home.
“I hope to build on current relationships and to identify and address any barriers to collaboration that may have existed in the past,” the commissioner said in the statement. She credited young ministers, working on the streets with police, with having had “an incredible impact” on gangs and violent crime in the early- to mid-1990s, and called it “time to redouble those collaborative efforts.”
Inside the department, O’Toole said, she will convene a meeting of all field and detective commanders, “who will be expected to present their respective assessments of the current situation,” and recommendations for immediate steps to be taken to curb the violence.
Also in the works, she wrote, are separate meetings to plan the expansion of reentry programs that offer oversight and support for people leaving prison.
“We must constantly monitor and reassess our enforcement, prevention and intervention strategies, particularly during difficult periods of violence,” said O’Toole, who said she spent yesterday morning in separate discussions about the recent violence with Mayor Thomas M. Menino, police Superintendent and investigative services chief Paul Joyce, and Superintendent James Claiborne, chief of field services.
Menino said in an interview yesterday that reviving strong ties between police and community leaders is essential, but harder to do with declining federal funding for the programs that helped police establish such partnerships in the 1990s.
“We need people to come forward from the community,” he said. “The police can’t do it alone.”
Meanwhile, in Dorchester, another Boston family was mourning the loss of a son.
Doris Harris, the mother of Harlan Harris, said she was told that the argument that led to her son’s death erupted over the name of a street that is related to the name of a local gang.
Her son, a Charlestown High School freshman who played church league basketball, was not involved with gangs, said Harris, 47, adding that he was planning to go to college.
“He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” his mother said. “I just hope they get the kid who shot him, and that justice is done.”
Boston police said the shooting does not appear to be connected to last week’s homicides. On Monday, Napoleon Maiben, 37, an out-of-work carpenter and father of a 2-year-old daughter, was shot and killed near a Jamaica Plain housing development by an assailant in a passing car. The next day, Marquis Boseman, 18, was shot and killed outside his Dorchester home while fixing a bicycle.
Boston Police Lieutenant Kevin Foley said Deburgo, the victim in Friday’s killing, had been known to police for several years, but would not elaborate.
Kathy Cogdell of Morton Street said the argument involving Harris yesterday happened outside a birthday party for her 15-year-old son and an 18-year-old friend. She said she had warned the teens beforehand that drugs, alcohol, and smoking were prohibited, and frisked the guests for weapons before they entered the first-floor apartment. Loitering outside the home was prohibited, she said.
Just before midnight, Cogdell said, Harlan Harris showed up at the doorstep, but declined to come inside. After he left, the disc jockey at the party, who identified himself only as DJ Trine, heard shouting and went out to the porch to see what was going on. The DJ, who refused to give his real name, said he heard four gunshots and saw Harris, whom he did not know, lying in the street. He tried to get a pulse, but felt none, he said.
The sound of gunshots brought the teen revelers out onto the porch, where they spilled onto the sidewalk, witnesses said. Harris was later pronounced dead at Boston Medical Center, police said.
One of five boys, the 6-foot-3 Harris hoped to play professional football one day, said his mother.
In fifth grade, his pencil-and-crayon drawing of Boston Harbor Light won a prize in a Boston Public Library competition.
“He was the nicest kid in the world,” said his brother Eddie, 28, who flew in from Philadelphia to be with his mother. “He’d give you the shirt off his back.”
SIDEBAR: Highlights of O’Toole plan. Excerpts from Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O’Toole’s plan to combat recent street violence:
* BPD internal youth violence summit - Meeting of all Boston police field and detective commanders who will be expected to present their respective assessments of the current situation and recommendations for immediate steps that can be taken to curb this increase in violent crime.
* Meetings with faith-based partners - Will determine how to best continue collaboration to address this challenge.
* Cape Verdean task force - Schedule an emergency meeting with representative of the task force. Appeal to the community to work very closely with police.
* Meetings with youth groups - “I have met with many youth groups over the past several weeks. It has been reassuring to meet so many great kids in this city. I need to hear from more of them, though, particularly those living in proximity to the hot spots where these recent homicides have occurred.”
* Expansion of reentry initiative - The Boston Police Department has partnered with correction, probation, parole, and DYS [Department of Youth Services] officials on a pilot reentry program in districts C-11 and D-4. The agencies work on comprehensive strategies to closely monitor and provide services to those returning from prison. We will convene meetings this coming week to develop a strategy for expansion of this very critical program.