City plans to focus on gang members

Antiviolence effort targets 200 to 300; neighbors, family to also get help

By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / July 1, 2010

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In the aftermath of several shocking shootings, including the killing of two 14-year-old boys, leaders of city, state, and federal agencies say they are joining forces to combat violence in Boston by focusing on the most dangerous gang members, their families, and the neighborhoods in which they live.

The new program, which the city plans to announce today, will identify 200 to 300 of the city’s most violent offenders, who are known as “impact players’’ because police say they are responsible for most shootings. A list will be distributed to law enforcement agencies and community and social services organizations, who would then seek to assist the perpetrators, their families, and their neighborhoods.

The program, to be called Partnerships Advancing Communities Together, or Boston PACT, combines elements of previous efforts to reduce violent crime in Boston, but officials said yesterday that it is new in its scope and depth.

“This is a brilliant idea that cuts across the silos of responsibility, across areas like police, public health, schools, social services,’’ said Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis.

The program is the result of several meetings that Mayor Thomas M. Menino said he has held with religious leaders, state and police officials, and social services providers following the shooting deaths of eighth-graders Jaewon Martin and Nicholas Fomby-Davis, who were killed within three weeks of each other in May.

“Many times we have these meetings, but there is no sense of reporting and seeing what the results are,’’ Menino said. “It’s about working together, because we know who they are but how do we get to them? How do we get them off the street? How are we going to impact their lives and the lives of the folks who live around those neighborhoods?’’

Officials who briefed reporters about the effort yesterday said they do not yet have a cost estimate for the program or know exactly how many people they will need to run it.

The primary aspects of the plan — identifying impact players and directing social services at them and their families — are similar to antiviolence efforts the city and private organizations, including the Boston Foundation, have launched in the past. But leaders said this effort is different because it extends to neighbors, will affect more families, and will unite powerful government agencies and community and religious organizations so they can combine resources.

A 12-member panel that will include Menino, Davis and the heads of other city, state, and federal agencies will meet monthly to assess progress and determine how resources should be used. For example, the board could help enroll the siblings of impact players in summer camp, hoping to keep them away from negative influences. The board could also try to relocate gang members out of the city for their protection.

But Davis said police will also continue to arrest gang members who continue to commit crimes.

The program will focus on 12 parts of the city, starting in Mattapan and extending to the South End, said Superintendent Paul Joyce of the Boston police.

Churches and other religious organizations will lead walks through troubled neighborhoods during high-crime times of the day, will attempt to form relationships with residents, and will strive to be visible in neighborhood parks as a crime deterrent.

Another goal of the program is to figure out the best way to lure young people out of gangs, Joyce said. There are about 116 known gangs with 3,500 members and associates in the city, he said. That is an enormous increase from the 1980s, when there were 15 gangs with 450 members, he said.

While those earlier gangs were considerably more violent — their conflicts contributed to a high of 152 Boston homicides in 1990 — they were organized and motivated by the drug trade, which made them more predictable and easier to target, he said.

Today, there are dramatically fewer homicides; last year there were 49 killings citywide. But gangs are now more reckless and less structured, Joyce said. Gang members will shoot over a perceived slight or go after people, sometimes with no connection to a gang, because they live in a neighborhood they consider enemy territory, Joyce said. “It really makes the picture much grayer in terms of what leads to a violent incident,’’ he said.

In six months, the city plans to examine the results of their efforts to see what changes should be made to the program, said Larry Mayes, Menino’s director of health and human services. “This is not going to be easy,’’ Mayes said. “These are wicked problems.’’

The Rev. Jeffrey Brown — executive director of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, which will be part of the effort — said he believes this program can succeed because troubled families will be able to get immediate access to social services.

“What we’re looking for is to change the culture,’’ Brown said. “We live in a culture of violence, and every now and then we have moments of peace. What you want is to shift things so we have a culture of peace.’’

Maria Cramer can be reached at

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