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Officials to canvass troubled Hub areas

They will ask families what's needed for safety

As Boston's homicide rate climbs and some fearful parents keep their children inside, city officials are planning to go block by block through Boston's most crime-ridden areas to ask residents what they need to feel safer and to urge them to become more involved in their communities.

In the next few weeks, police officers, city employees, and street workers will blanket pockets of Dorchester and Roxbury that have had a high concentration of slayings, shootings, stabbings, and robberies in the past three years. They will knock on doors and ask parents if their children are involved in after-school programs. They will offer transportation to nearby community centers for children whose parents are afraid to let them go out alone.

They will also help form neighborhood councils of church leaders, business owners, and residents that would examine problems in the neighborhood and discuss them with police and city liaisons who will report back to police and other city supervisors.

All city departments will be asked to participate in the effort either by identifying employees who live in the four neighborhoods and can go door to door or by providing employees for a few hours to administer surveys to middle school students about how to improve after-school programs, said Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, which will work with the initiative.

City officials say they do not have an estimate of how much the initiative will cost, but expect donations from private organizations. Some of the city employees and street workers would be volunteering their time to do the outreach work, knocking on doors in the targeted areas on weekends.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino provided a glimpse of the plan yesterday, saying it is the first step in a strategy to reduce crime in the city that officials hope to expand into other areas.

"It's a very aggressive approach," he said in an interview. "Instead of telling people to come to us, we're going to go to them to get them involved."

Unlike other recent police initiatives aimed at identifying and arresting criminals or increasing police presence in high-crime areas, Menino said the new effort would coordinate the city's resources and employees with neighborhood residents.

The initiative is an attempt to help residents in these areas "take back the streets," Ferrer said.

'It's really, really important that a very small percentage living in these communities who are engaging in destructive and dangerous behavior don't take control," she said. "If it works, it goes into all the rest of the neighborhoods."

The Health Commission will provide four youth development specialists with social work and counseling skills to work in the four targeted neighborhoods.

Police Superintendent Paul Joyce said each of the four pockets to be canvassed encompasses about four to six blocks. The four areas include Bowdoin Street and Geneva Avenue in Dorchester; Blue Hill Avenue and Creston Street in Roxbury; Harrison Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard in Roxbury; and Blue Hill and Woodrow avenues in Dorchester.

Joyce said one of the reasons police chose these neighborhoods is that they have community centers, churches, and schools that would cooperate with the city.

"Law enforcement is part of the solution, but really these issues are much bigger than the police," he said. "It takes outreach to families. It takes education and working with families to really make a difference."

In August, Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis attributed a decline in shootings in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury to an increased police presence in the neighborhoods, targeted investigations, and arrests of suspects police believed were responsible for shootings.

But Ferrer said yesterday that policing efforts alone cannot curb violence in the long run.

"The law enforcement side of it is a really critical part of it and you have to have it," Ferrer said.

"But if you don't really start thinking about what does it mean to really promote a culture of nonviolence, then you don't get at preventing kids from falling off track."

City officials estimate each of the four targeted pockets has about 500 families.

Children who need rides back and forth from the community centers will be picked up in vans owned by the city, the Police Department, and neighborhood nonprofit agencies.

The city will pay drivers a stipend to transport the children.

Ferrer said the city will also work with Boston public schools on a violence-prevention and conflict-resolution curriculum citywide at every grade level.

Teachers could be asked to develop 20-minute lesson plans each week to teach students how to handle anger and conflict.

The city also plans to offer programs for parents that would focus on conflict-resolution so they can learn how to teach their children how to settle arguments and disagreements without resorting to violence.

"This is an important skill," Ferrer said. "It's as important as math. Truthfully, without it, we're seeing what's happening."

City officials plan to work with teenagers and children to help them develop a citywide education campaign promoting peace.

Officials have begun calling community leaders in the targeted neighborhoods to obtain their support.

"I think it's a great idea," Jorge Martinez, executive director of Project Right, a nonprofit that works with young people in Grove Hall.

Martinez, who learned of the initiative last week, said he expects that three of his staff workers will help knock on doors.

"It's a proactive approach, instead of a reactive approach, which has been to send police to a certain neighborhood and patrol it," he said.

"We're trying to keep people alive and give them options. If you want folks to travel along the right path, you got to offer them access to resources. You can't wish upon people to do better."

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.

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