Summer crime threat shows need for new police tactics

The site of the June 22 triple homicide on Intervale Street in Roxbury jarred the memories of many Bostonians who recall the area as home to the city’s most dangerous gang during the 1990s. While the motive for the latest shootings remains unknown, both the brutal nature and location of the crime highlights the need for extra vigilance as both the outside temperatures and the potential for deadly violence heat up.

Summer crime prevention strategies in Boston generally follow along two fronts: an intense focus of police personnel and resources on high-crime “hot spot’’ neighborhoods; and outreach campaigns by the city’s public health workers who visit families in low-income neighborhoods and housing projects with advice on finding camps and summer job opportunities for young people. This multiyear strategy has been pretty successful. But Boston Police should always be looking for ways to improve their crime-fighting operation.

New York City has been reporting good results from the Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program, which was started in 2007. Police officers work to keep young armed robbers from settling into criminal careers, partly by undermining their relationships with known gang members. The tactics can be as fleeting as police calling out unwelcome greetings to offenders on street corners or as demanding as home visits. Meanwhile, intelligence officers carefully monitor the offenders’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, even sending out phony friend requests to sidestep privacy settings.


The program is based on a 1990s-era intervention strategy — Operation Ceasefire — pioneered in Boston. Police took an active role back then in visiting the homes of known Boston gang members and giving them a choice between constant surveillance and opportunities to make an honest living. Over the years, however, Boston’s public health workers and community center staffers have taken over much of the direct contact. In New York City, police officers assume that major role. The personal involvement of officers sends a powerful message that crime prevention takes precedence over the offer of support services.

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Criminologist David Kennedy, one of the authors of Boston’s Operation Ceasefire, recently stated that New York City now leads the nation in these face-to-face interventions.

There is no one right way to prevent crime during the summer months. But when it comes to getting a point across to young and violent offenders, there is no substitute for police on their thresholds.