By John Lynds
The city, state and federal top law enforcement officials were in East Boston last Thursday night to brief residents on the recent violent crime in the neighborhood and subsequent federal sweep that netted 56 alleged MS-13 gang members reportedly responsible for the homicides, shootings and other violence here since September.
Led by Mayor Martin Walsh, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, District Attorney Dan Conley, Police Commissioner William Evans and Sheriff Steve Tompkins were all on hand to address the issues and answer questions from residents.
If there was one major overall tone of the meeting it was law enforcement needs the community’s help in reaching kids in the community before they head down the path of crime. A majority of the questions from residents revolved around ‘how do we prevent our children from getting involved in gangs and violence?’.
Mayor Walsh kicked off the meeting and talked about how crime in Eastie is down 34 percent so far this year when compared to the same period in 2015 and pledged more officers from the soon-to-be graduating police academy class would be director to Eastie.
However, Walsh said he looking to add more programs and resources that targets individuals that are heading into a life of crime.
“We need to do more with youth and we can not simply rely on fighting crime but need to do more outreach in the community that target impact players and get them off the streets, into the workforce and start leading more productive lives,” said Walsh.
One program Walsh pointed to was Operation Exit which has helped over two dozen at risk young men that have had troubles in the past to begin working in a trade like plumbing, carpentry or electrical.
“This is a multi prong approach and we all work very closely to look a different ways to address the problem of youth violence and misdirected youth,” said Walsh. “We know how much you love this neighborhood, we love this neighborhood and that’s why we are here to show our commitment to do everything we can to make sure East Boston stays a safe neighborhood for families and those live here.”
U.S. Attorney Ortiz, who oversaw the investigation that resulted in 56 alleged members of the violent street gang MS-13 being rounded up during a federal sweep at the beginning of the month, agreed with Walsh.
“We can not work in silos,” said Ortiz. “In this investigation we worked with the FBI, the State Police and Boston Police as well as other police departments to bring these individuals to justice. It is my job to make every effort to work with my partners in law enforcement and if you take one thing away from this meeting it is we need your help and your partnership as well.”
Ortiz said while it is her job to focus on justice for the victims of violence like the three murders of teens in Eastie since September it is the community’s job to focus on prevention and intervention before teens are wooed by street gangs and other criminal activities.
“You know your neighborhood so we are counting on you to help us rid the community of violence,” she said. “We can’t just have the law enforcement piece we need to be able to count on the community and its continued involvement to help us not only fight crime but to prevent crime.”
Commissioner Evans said he was eager to come out to Eastie following the federal MS-13 sweep and is always looking for ways to divert kids from the criminal justice system. Programs like the ones Mayor Walsh mentioned as well as BCYF programs at the Marty Pino Center, teen centers, music programs like Zumix and other teen programs at the YMCA and Social Centers are all resources to get kids off the street and into trouble.
“We are only one part of the solution,” said Evans. “We need more resources and more community members to come forward and help teens they may see in trouble.”
One parent asked how to recognize the signs and who they should call if they suspect a family members is involved in crime or gangs.
Evans and Walsh said the community officers at District 7, who also run several youth activities during the year, are there to help and guide parents to resources that currently exist before the a child goes down the wrong path.
District Attorney Conley also said his office also runs programs to help teens stay out of the criminal justice system.
“We rounded up 56 alleged gang members but its the 50 to 100 kids out there that may have thought of joining the gang or were attracted to the gang life,” explained Conley. “These are the kids we are trying to reach through programs like my “Overcoming Violence” program. We recently ran this program at Umana school and will be back in East Boston at East Boston High in March. I recently spoke to a graduating class of this program and I asked of the 34,000 cases we prosecute every year how many go to jail. Some thought 50 percent or more but the answer is 5 percent. So 95 percent of the individuals get a second chance and deserve a second chance. We try really hard to give most people a break and prove to us they can make life work. That why these programs exist and why we try to reach these individuals through these programs every day.”
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz addresses the crowd during last week’s community-wide meeting on crime.
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans and Mayor Martin Walsh during the meeting.
District Attorney Dan Conley