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The Boston Strategy

The Boston Strategy

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Published by elegantpride
Fighting gangs in Boston
Fighting gangs in Boston

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Published by: elegantpride on Nov 19, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Got a Juvenile Gang Problem? Call Boston
by Lora E. Como

On November 9, 1989, Casmiro Dos Santos was working in his own store on Bowdoin Street in
the business district of Boston\u2019s Dorchester when he was robbed, shot multiple times, and killed. Police
suspected gang activity in the already tough neighborhood was responsible, but the ensuing investigation
came up empty. Meanwhile, the savageness of the 62-year-old\u2019s murder resonated through the
community and business in the area dropped off. People were genuinely shaken by Dos Santos\u2019 murder,
and worse yet, the murder was a harbinger of things to come.

The murder occurred on the eve of one of Boston\u2019s most violent years when the city\u2019s crime
fighters would find themselves embroiled with the infestation of gangs, crack, and the horrible
consequences of when those two unite. By March 11, 1990, 52 victims of murder had already passed
through Boston morgues with 100 more yet to come, many of them gang-related slayings. And in 1992,
in what is now known as the Morning Star incident, a funeral service for a dead gang member erupted in
even more gang violence at the Mattapan Baptist church. But as of March 17, 1999, the Boston police
have only had to dispatch squad cars to four homicide scenes and none of those murders have involved
juvenile gang members. And, ten years later, they\u2019ve solved Casmiro Dos Santos\u2019 murder.

The dent that the city has put in the gang-related crime epidemic that first began to plague the
city at the turn of the last decade has not been the product of a few Eliot Ness types throwing around the
full weight of the law amid the din of gunfire; rather the significant drop in crime, especially in youth
crime, has been the product of an unprecedented coordination of city-wide resources into a synchronized,
multi-dimensional plan of attack called the Boston Strategy that involves law enforcement partnerships,
community cooperation, social services participation, and the trust of all those involved.

In 1997, U.S. Attorney Donald Stern told the Boston Globe, \u201cIn the old days, there was a lot of
mistrust and distrust. Probation officers wouldn\u2019t go out of their offices, the police mostly responded to
911 calls, prosecutors just looked at what came in the door to decide what to act on, and the feds had
their heads in the clouds and didn\u2019t know what was happening on the streets. And the community may
have viewed the police as an intrusive force.\u201d Boston, and much of the nation\u2019s crime fighters, were ill-
prepared to deal with structured youth gangs who trafficked in violence and crack cocaine, and their
efforts amounted to no more than clumsy knee-jerk reactions.

The dawn of the Boston Strategy came just as the city\u2019s schools threw open their doors in the
late summer of 1995, and a possible drug war was brewing between the notoriously violent Intervale
posse of Dorchester and another rival gang. 22 gang members from the Intervale posse were arrested on
the first day of school, 15 of them on federal conspiracy charges to distribute crack cocaine and 7 on state
charges. What distinguishes the bust from others of its kind is the coordinated effort of top officials, the
involvement of the federal authorities, and the refusal of the city to stop and rest on its laurels.

The bust had been extensively pre-planned, and the police department\u2019s Youth Violence Strike
Force had even forewarned gang members of the impending bust. The caveat went unheeded, as

expected, and officials from high up in the law enforcement echelons, such as the federal US attorney,
the state\u2019s Attorney General, and the county\u2019s District Attorney, all of whom have historically operated
autonomously, banded together and enlisted the help of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the State Police, and various police and municipal agencies.
And together they wiped out the Intervale posse.

But the coordination of law enforcement agencies is only one dimension in the Boston equation.
The enlistment of the community has been a crucial step in forging a bond of trust between the cops and
the communities they work in, a \u201ctrust that did not exist ten years ago,\u201d according to Boston police
Sergeant Paul Joyce, formerly of the Youth Violence Strike Force and now a detective in the homicide
division. After the Intervale bust, the city sent the National Guard to Dorchester to bulldoze the vacant
lot formerly occupied by the Intervale gang. The city\u2019s Inspectional Services then moved in to board up
abandoned houses, fence in vacant lots, raze buildings, erase graffiti, and eliminate as many cosmetic
stigmas of poverty and gang culture from the neighborhood as possible.

Forty-seven Boston area churches then united themselves under the moniker of the Ten Point
Coalition and street workers were deployed to attract youth away from the gang life by offering them
alternatives in the very viable forms of jobs and after-school programs. And probably the most
innovative and effective program of the Boston strategy has been Operation Night Light in which
probation officers have transformed themselves from court-based bureaucrats to a formidable presence,
not only on the street, but in the homes of probationers where they can pop up and enter without notice or


The product of the partnerships and coalitions that form the Boston Strategy are only a few years
old, yet the city\u2019s homicide tally last year was at a 30-year low of 59 murders. And if 1999\u2019s murder rate
stays the same, the city will only suffer 16 homicides for the year, and none of them will be gang-related.
All of which must mean that homicide is an awful slow place to work these days. Not true, says Sergeant
Joyce. While the telephones at dispatch may be quieter, homicide is still quite busy with the business of
solving murders. \u201cWe\u2019re going back and identifying unsolved gang homicides that started in 1988,\u201d
Sergeant Joyce said, which total about 300 homicides mostly from the areas of Dorchester, Roxbury, and
Mattapan. And since, as Detective Joyce says, \u201cinformation is everything in homicide,\u201d detectives have
assembled a tome called the Homicide Reference Guide that is a compilation of all unsolved gang-related
murders. The guide contains general public information on the circumstances surrounding each murder,
including information about the victims and maps of the different neighborhoods, and has not only been
distributed to law enforcement agencies but to the community as well. And in keeping with the element
of trust between the law and the community spawned by the Boston Strategy, the Homicide Reference
Guide has received the full support of the community coalitions who act as liaisons for people too afraid
to divulge information directly to the police. Add to that equation a brand new state-of-the-art DNA
testing laboratory and the result is 13 solved murders, including the arrest of two suspects in the on-going
investigation of Casmiro Dos Santos\u2019 slaying. \u201cEveryone\u2019s moving in the same direction, and when you
pool your efforts, you can make a significant impact on a neighborhood. We\u2019re trying to show that we\u2019re
not resting on our wave of success, and we\u2019re committed to taking care of what happened in the past,\u201d

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