Walking the streets of Dorchester’s Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood Monday afternoon, City Councilor and mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi George spoke about the need for scores more police officers in the city, further emphasizing a key difference between herself and her competition with roughly two weeks to go before Boston’s preliminary election.
It was not the first time she has called for more manpower for the nation’s oldest force, and policing continues to be an issue that separates the former public school teacher from Savin Hill from her main political rivals, many of whom have emphasized the need for deep and systemic reforms of the scandal-ridden department. Essaibi George, meanwhile, has received the endorsement of a former Boston police commissioner known to be a cop’s cop and has opposed reallocating funds from Boston police to other programs.
Now, during a walk around a neighborhood where instances of brutal violence have rocked the community in recent years, Essaibi George says that “one of the challenges right now with police is they are very much stretched thin that we are under-resourced.” She favors adding 200 to 300 more officers to the department, which currently has 2,105 sworn officers.
“It’s not just about adding the number,” said Essaibi George. “We need the number but it’s also about making sure that they’re engaged with community, that they’re able to build relationships.”
More officers, she said, doesn’t “necessarily mean less crime if we’re not building relationships.” She also stressed the city needs to “make sure the police department is reflective of the communities they serve.”
With 15 days to go before the preliminary, Essaibi George’s focus on violence prevention underscored the importance of public safety to her campaign.
She was joined by the Rev. Richard “Doc” Conway, a priest at St. Ambrose Church, Pastor Troy Smith, a city council candidate for District 4, and Anthony “Big Time” Seymour from Youth in Crisis, a local violence prevention group. The walk was the first stop on what her campaign has dubbed a “tough conversations” tour this week, which is intended to highlight her policy plans. There will be stops focused on education and the opioid epidemic, among other topics, in coming days.
Conway spoke about the importance of city officials listening to the problems of the neighborhood.
“Why don’t we have cops walking a beat here?” he asked. “The cops are good people, they want to do stuff, but [the] hierarchy says no.”
Communication, said Conway, is important, pointing out that YMCAs in the city are free to teenagers before adding, “How many teenagers know that, I wonder?”
Said Seymour, “We got a resource on every corner, but it’s not promoted.”
Essaibi George spoke of “doubling down on our efforts in community policing.”
Violent crime in Boston is down from last year. Homicides number 28 in the city so far this year, compared to 40 for the same time last year. The 5-year average for slayings is also 40. This year, 140 people have been shot in the city, down 40 from last year and under the 5-year average of 152, according to statistics from Boston police. Gun arrests are up; 427 this year compared to 339 last year. Overall, what is referred to as Part 1 crime, which includes homicides, rapes, aggravated assaults, robberies, larcenies, burglaries, and auto thefts, is down 16 percent as of Monday, police said.
That’s not to say street crime has gone away in Boston. Indeed, over the weekend, in a different part of Dorchester, a man was fatally shot. That slaying came hours after a 17-year-old was fatally stabbed near Blue Hill Avenue and Columbia Road.
And the streets Essaibi George walked on Monday have been marred with violence in recent months and years. Her tour took her past the Olney Street home of a grandmother who was fatally shot on her porch in April. The group also walked by a convenience store that was the site of a grisly killing in 2018. A nearby intersection and nearby park have also been the sites of brutal street violence in recent years.
One woman, who lives in the neighborhood but declined to be named, ticked off the social ills of the neighborhood to Essaibi George: alcoholism, drug use, drug-dealing, and street violence connected to the dealing. She wants to see more officers walking the streets.
“I’ve seen a lot of murders, a lot of crime, but unfortunately we got to live where we live, you know what I mean, where we afford to live,” said the neighborhood resident.
She told the mayoral hopeful sometimes all she can do is pray for those who are afflicted by drug addiction.
“We can pray and we can do the work,” replied Essaibi George.
A new poll released last week shows City Councilor Michelle Wu leading the mayoral field, with the other three women in the race — Essaibi George, Acting Mayor Kim Janey, and Councilor Andrea Campbell — bunched together at her heels in what appears to be a battle for second place.
The Emerson College/7News poll showed Wu with 24 percent support. The poll of 600 likely Boston voters found Essaibi George with 18 percent support, closely followed by Janey with 16 percent, and Campbell at 14 percent. John Barros, a former economic development chief for the city, drew just 2 percent.
The preliminary is Sept. 14. The top two mayoral vote-getters advance to the Nov. 2 general election.