The Brookline Police Department plans to hold a neighborhood meeting next week to address public safety issues, including residents’ concerns over the recent spate of robberies near the Boston University campus.
Lt. Philip Harrington said the meeting has been scheduled for Monday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria of The Edward Devotion School on Harvard Street. He said a representative from BU Police, possibly the campus department’s chief, is expected to attend.
The meeting will focus on other concerns in the neighborhood, including issues related to college students who live in the area, town by-laws and nuisance complaints.
A recent wave of street crime – a mix of robberies and attempted robberies, most at gunpoint and the most recent that ended in a non-fatal stabbing – has been reported around a concentrated area of northern Brookline near BU’s campus, stirring fear among the neighborhoods' residents and students.
“It’s a burden and it’s taken away our sense of safety in this neighborhood,” said Maura Toomey, a mother of three teenagers who lives in the middle of the area where the attacks have been reported. “This area is packed with families. We’re concerned it could happen to one of our kids. I think people are very, very nervous about this whole situation.”
Some of the worry has been alleviated by increased police patrols and recent arrests. Six people have been arrested and a seventh has a warrant for his arrest. The charges filed against them connect them to a total of four incidents.
Altogether, there have been at least eight separate attacks dating back to last fall.
The victims in each incident have had ties to BU, mostly as students or recent graduates of the university.
But, Toomey said she and other neighborhood residents worry: “How is one of these suspects to know that our teenaged children walking around here with backpacks to and from school aren’t college students.”
Town police have said the attacks have targeted people carrying valuable electronics, like cell phones, tablet computers and laptops.
Such items are popular with many college students, but also with younger children and older adults.
“Younger children carry expensive phones and electronic devices, too,” Toomey said.
Toomey said that she has been more careful about letting her own children walk around the area, opting to drive them when she can and has also grown worried about walking by herself.
Mary Epstein said she too is more cautious about walking her dog around the neighborhood that she and her husband have called home for the past 40 years.
“This is a walking community,” said Epstein, who has two young grandchildren. “You don’t even have to have a car here. We have the Green Line on both sides, the C and D. We’re near Coolidge Corner. Everybody walks to everything.”
But, “Now mentality is children and families are staying indoors,” she said, adding, “We’ve never had a crime wave here before.”
Toomey credited Brookline Police and other authorities for the “terrific job” they’ve done to make arrests.
But, she said she often learns about the incidents secondhand from people who receive alerts directly from BU. And, she said she hopes local authorities can find a better way to notify residents who do not receive the university’s alerts.
“For the most part, this is not happening on BU’s campus. This is Brookline. We’re just as scared as they are,” said Toomey.
Both Toomey and Epstein said the key question for them is why.
“Why in this one block?,” asked Toomey.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Epstein. “What is drawing crime here? Who could know why certain people are coming into the community and preying on certain people.”
The crimes have been unusual for those who live on the quiet network of residential streets that branch off Commonwealth Avenue. The area includes a diverse mix of housing – some high-end homes and condominiums that sell for more than $1 million; some apartment buildings that draw a range of off-campus college students; and some public housing reserved for low-income residents.
“Why can’t all of this coexist without crime,” Epstein said. “It has for all of these years.”