It was a sight that has become more common in the city: Boston’s police commissioner, his command staff, clergy, civic leaders, and elected officials walked the streets of East Boston, weeks after a 15-year-old was stabbed to death there, in a show of solidarity and a call for peace.
“Walks like this make a difference. It shows the community we very much care about the violence that goes on,” said Police Commissioner William B. Evans as he stood outside Most Holy Redeemer Parish on London Street last week. “We want the community to come together and help us so that no young kid is getting stabbed and no young kid is getting shot.”
The stroll in East Boston was the most recent in a series of walks that began in August after a violent night when six people were shot in the city, three of them fatally. Police officials say the walks have helped the department strengthen relationships with members of the community by engaging with residents face to face. The first walk was held Aug. 21, and by mid-November, nearly 40 such walks will have been held, according to the Boston Police Department.
The walks, while helping to build relationships, are also symbolic, community leaders say.
“When you’re walking down the street in these tough areas with the entire police command, that sends a clear message to bad guys,” said Joseph Logrippo, a community chaplain in East Boston. “It says we’re paying attention, we’re aware, and we’re not going to let that happen.”
The stabbing death last month of 15-year-old Irvin Depaz, of Chelsea, rattled residents in this close-knit neighborhood. Depaz was found on Trenton Street in East Boston and was later pronounced dead at Massachusetts General Hospital.
So far this year, 24 people have been killed in the city — down from 45 homicides at the same time last year, according to police officials.
“We pray for the peace of this city and this neighborhood,” said the Rev. David Searles, of Central Assembly of God Church in East Boston, as he and the other walkers stood on Trenton Street where Depaz was killed. A small memorial had been erected in his honor: a dozen or so candles, a bouquet of yellow flowers, and a green Boston cap.
“Youth violence is the thing that shows up but it’s indicative of other things we need to address,” Searles said as he walked down the block. The walks are “a part of a larger thing that is happening and needs to continue.”
Over the last six weeks, there have been 33 walks, mostly in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan — the neighborhoods most affected by crime.
The walks were scheduled to end this month but will continue once a week and go into other neighborhoods, including Charlestown and South Boston, officials said.
Heather Hennessey stepped outside a day-care center where she works on Trenton Street after Evans, his command staff, Searles, and others said a prayer near the memorial for the slain teenager.
“It’s just nice that they care,” she said.
Captain Kelley McCormick, commander of the East Boston police station, said he and his officers typically walk the beat and sometimes, on a whim, play soccer or other sports with neighborhood youth.
“We try to build a relationship every day,” McCormick said. “We’re here to help you, not to hurt you.”
It’s unclear what if any impact the walks have had on crime, but policing experts say the walks undoubtedly serve a long-term purpose of fostering bonds between police and residents at a time when those relationships have been strained in other cities.
“These guys are doing it right,” said Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police officer who is now a criminology professor at Merrimack College. “If we saw these kinds of strategies in Baltimore there wouldn’t have been the kinds of problems Baltimore is having today.”
“Boston is laying the groundwork,” Nolan continued, noting that both Evans and Police Superintendent-in-Chief William Gross have spent time in neighborhoods throughout the city. “Particularly in communities of color, [residents] have a rapport with police that is particularly absent in other cities.”
Boston police officers aren’t the first to take to walking the streets after violence occurs.
“This has a long history in the city of Boston,” said the Rev. Mark Scott, associate pastor of Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester.
“Our little church would walk around the neighborhood when the violence was real out of control and palpable — members would walk around the neighborhood and pray.”
Scott and others acknowledge that neighborhood walks are not the answer to the city’s violence, but they are a start, he said.
“Us walking in a neighborhood is not going to deter [violence], but are we going to . . . hide, or are we going to come outside?” Scott said. “It’s our city.”