City's crime numbers dive
But not all residents feel safer in neighborhoods, despite statistics
Some of Boston's most crime-plagued neighborhoods have experienced double-digit percentage drops in shootings this year, according to new police statistics.
But it could take more than numbers to ease the fears of many residents in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury who have seen relatives, friends, and neighbors fall victim to the gun violence.
In Dorchester, shootings through July 25 plunged 30 percent from the same period last year, and in Roxbury, where 8-year-old Liquarry Jefferson was accidentally shot to death by a 7-year-old cousin in June, shootings dropped by 31 percent.
Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis attributed the decline to an increased police presence in the neighborhoods, targeted investigations, and arrests of suspects police believed were responsible for shootings. He also cited resources added to the city's job, youth, and recreation programs.
"We believe that an increased visibility and a better connection to the community has resulted in a reduction of violent crime," he said in an interview yesterday. "I know that works, so I expect the downward trend to continue."
Citywide, shootings are down nearly one-third compared with the same time last year. The number of homicides is down 17 percent, and violent crime overall is down by about 10 percent. The new statistics show that decreases are more pronounced in some neighborhoods that have been hit hardest by street violence since 2004, when shootings and homicides began surging in Boston.
Yvette Conille, a 50-year-old lab technician, lives on Willowwood Street near the border of Mattapan, where the number of shootings has fallen 22 percent, from 59 shootings in 2006 to 46 this year. She said she has noticed the drop in the last six to nine months.
"You see how quiet it is now?" she asked as she leafed through her mail on the porch of her three-decker yesterday afternoon. "It's the same at night. It's much better. It's a big relief, a big, big relief."
"This summer has been the best summer," said her brother-in-law, Jacques Fritzmont, 56, as he sat on the porch sipping tea.
But for others, personal experience and perception did not match the new police numbers.
"I don't think it's true," said Patria Guerrero, 25, who lives on Hamilton Street in Dorchester, where a 14-year-old boy was shot on New Year's Day following a family party. "I sleep, and I'm afraid. I'm driving, and I'm always afraid that someone is going to shoot through my window and I'm going to die. It's all I think about."
Ruth Charles, 15, looked around nervously as she walked down Geneva Avenue in Dorchester, pushing her 5-week-old baby, Tamara, in a stroller. It was the middle of the day, and children and mothers were walking or chatting on their porches, but Charles said she still felt unsafe.
"You never know when someone is going to try to jump up on you," she said. "My boyfriend got stabbed the other day because he was wearing blue. They mistook him for somebody else."
Charles, who lives on Seaver Street in Roxbury, said she often hears shooting around her neighborhood and has difficulty believing there has been a drop in crime. She stays in at night and usually tries to get rides with friends, rather than walk around Roxbury.
"I'm trying to get out of this area," Charles said. "Out in the suburbs somewhere nice, with nice, cut bushes and flowers and stuff."
In the police district that includes the Back Bay and the South End, where shootings fell 76 percent, from 25 in 2006 to 6 this year, there were also skeptics.
"I haven't heard as much this summer," said Greg Saldana, 48, who lives on Newton Street near Shawmut Avenue. "But you know the summer is not over."
The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, pastor of Union Baptist Church in Cambridge and cofounder of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, said that while he believes neighborhood safety is improving, he understands why some residents are skeptical.
"I think the general feeling in the neighborhoods is that one shooting is too many shootings," he said by telephone yesterday. "People are holding their breath and hoping for the best at this point, that it's not just temporary. They're looking for reductions that will signal a change in the culture of violence. I think that's what people are looking for."
To help keep the numbers down, Davis said, police will continue to investigate and round up suspects they believe are responsible for shootings, but whom they have been unable to arrest on gun charges, by pursuing drug charges, parole violations, and other offenses.
"I want people to understand that those individuals who may be resorting to using firearms, if we don't get them for the shootings they've committed, we will get them for something else," he said by telephone.
Davis said captains and other officers plan to fan out to community meetings to herald the figures and discuss the strategies the department is using.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino said he is optimistic the violent crime numbers will stay down, especially with the addition of 50 officers who will transfer from other police departments in the next two weeks.
"We're all hopeful," he said by telephone yesterday. "We're all encouraged by the numbers going down, but we're not satisfied yet. I won't be satisfied until we have a city that everybody feels safe in. That's the challenge. People have to feel safe.
Some residents said they hope the new statistics will change the broadly held view that crime in Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury is out of control.
Sybil Allen, a nurse who lives in Dorchester and works in Newton, said one patient who moved out of the area years ago said he would never return there.
"To him, he just believes that we're in so much danger in Dorchester or we're killing each other," she said, as she got her hair done in a Mattapan beauty shop. "I live in Dorchester. I can say it's changing."
Outside, David Lee, 34, stood on Blue Hill Avenue, finishing a cigarette as he waited for his mother to come out of a nail salon.
He said his co-workers at a Newton hospital, where he works as a transport technician, always ask him if he feels unsafe living in Mattapan.
"They say they wouldn't go there," Lee said and shrugged. "Everybody has an idea, a stereotyping of a neighborhood. You got to live here."
Globe correspondent Claire Cummings contributed to this report. Maria Cramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.