In an attempt to connect with a Roxbury community already stung by a recent surge in violence, Boston police officers have joined YMCA staff every Friday for free hot dog events they hope will attract the neighborhood’s young adults, the YMCA said Tuesday.
The weekly giveaway, from 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays at the Roxbury YMCA branch at 285 Martin Luther King Blvd., is part of the city’s wider strategy of engaging youth in troubled neighborhoods through large social events and acclimating them to police.
In May, Mayor Thomas M. Menino unveiled a plan to curb summer violence that combined city-sponsored events like outdoor movie nights with an increase in police presence and neighborhood watch groups.
“We wanted everybody to feel comfortable,” said Kathryn Saunders, executive director of the Roxbury YMCA branch. “Part of that is neighbors feeling comfortable with the police . . . but we also wanted the police officers to generate that relationship and feel comfortable around the community.”
Saunders organized the event along with police Sergeant Samil Silta, who is new to the Roxbury area, after the two saw an increase in violent crime in the neighborhood, according to the YMCA statement.
There have been 104 shootings in Boston by June 11, police say, up more than 25 percent from the 81 shootings during the same period last year. The number of fatal shootings by June 11 has risen as well, up to 17 so far this year, compared to 12 homicides in the same period last year.
This past weekend, there were seven shootings in Boston. A shooting Saturday morning on McGreevey Way in Roxbury sent a man to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. Later in the day Saturday, an exchange of gunfire between two cars in Mattapan left a man dead, Boston police said.
Several officers who regularly patrol Roxbury hand out the grilled dogs from the Boston Police Department’s hot dog cart outside the YMCA building, and the prospect of free food has attracted both seniors and teenagers, Saunders said, making for a comfortable community atmosphere.
The event’s organizers estimate that they serve more than 400 YMCA members and other Roxbury residents each week.
“There have definitely been people who have come over who wouldn’t have otherwise,” Saunders said. “Everybody likes to chat over hot dogs.”