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editorial

A preventable attack?

It’s commendable that Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis has demoted the police detective responsible for last year’s investigative blunder that may have allowed Edwin Alemany — a “person of interest’’ in the recent murder of Amy Lord — to remain on the street. But a good disciplinary and public relations strategy can’t begin to erase the harm that has been done in this case.

Davis indicated that the detective failed to follow up on a case in which an architectural student was assaulted on a Mission Hill street and choked into a state of unconsciousness. The young woman remembers grabbing at her attacker’s pocket and woke to find herself clutching Alemany’s wallet. Despite such evidence, the detective made only a perfunctory effort to pursue the case, citing a lack of probable cause to make an arrest. Alemany, who prosecutors say has a long history of violence, resurfaced last week as a suspect in the street assaults on two other women in South Boston during a 19-hour period.

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Even in a busy police district, an attack on a woman by a stranger using extreme violence is a significant cause for concern. Any detective who fails to pursue a specific lead aggressively in such a case is unfit for the assignment. The decisions of any supervisor who failed to review the detective’s work should be investigated as well. The trauma of last week’s attacks in South Boston may have been preventable had Boston police pursued the earlier case with vigor.

To see the extent of the failure, it is useful to compare the Alemany case with the recent case of two men arrested by the MBTA police for a hate crime in South Station. According to T police, the suspects taunted the victim with anti-gay slurs, beat him, and stole his cellphone. In short order, MBTA detectives identified the suspects by tracking down the sale of the victim’s cellphone on Craigslist and comparing surveillance footage with Facebook photos of the accused. This case showed what enterprising detective work can achieve.

Often, detectives must construct a case with few initial clues. The Alemany case required no such diligence. By all appearances, Boston police simply failed to act on the evidence that fell in their lap.

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