Metro

Boston police showcase art project aiming to combat youth violence

The Boston Police Department spent Tuesday afternoon unveiling a new tool used to combat violence in the city at their headquarters — art.

About two years ago, Medicine Wheel Productions, an institution that’s been using public art to strengthen Boston communities, joined with the police department to start a program designed to connect police officers and Boston youth through art workshops.

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The program, called “Hand in Hand,” started with eight officers and eight young people. As of Tuesday, 113 officers and 113 kids have participated.

During the unveiling ceremony, Boston police Deputy Superintendent Nora Baston recalled her experience attending the first “Hand in Hand” session.

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She remembers sharing sundaes with youth participants and exchanging contact information by the end of the eight-hour workshop, but when she and her fellow officers first entered the room, the situation was tense.

“When we walked in, half of the officers knew the kids, but in a negative way,” she said. “Some of the officers had just arrested some of the youth.”

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans also participated in the program, which partners young members of the Boston community, mostly kids who have had trouble with the law, with officers to spend the day bonding by creating art.

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After participating in a mediation session, the pairs mold and cast their hands together. The molds are later coated in bronze and mounted on wooden pedestals branded with poems written by the participants.

Evans, whose own pedestal was featured in the exhibition at BPD headquarters, said getting to know some of the Boston youth community was a powerful experience that allowed him and his officers to start building mutual trust with kids in the city.

“That’s the only way we’re going to stop some of the violence and some of the negativity directed at police,” he said.

Evans said by the end of his session, he had bonded tightly with his partner, although Medicine Wheel founder Michael Dowling remembers the beginning of Evans’ time at “Hand in Hand” a little differently.

“The commissioner was a little stiff and the kid was a little stiff, but they cast their hands together,” Dowling said. “On the way out that night I said, ‘Well, what did you think?’ And the young man said, ‘I think maybe I want to be a cop.’ ”

“Hand in Hand” is now expanding from South Boston to East Boston thanks to a partnership between Medicine Wheel and the Veronica Robles Cultural Center.

Dowling said as the program grows, so does its potential to change the culture between young people and police officers.

“My theory is that people destroy things because they’re not invited to create,” he said.

Alyssa Meyers can be reached at alyssa.meyers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ameyers_.
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