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No end in sight, continued


The scope of the BPD homicide unit’s failure in 2005 almost defies description. Of 74 official homicide investigations as of press time (discounting a murder-suicide that did not require investigation), they have made arrests in just 18, a pathetic 24 percent. The national average in large cities is over 60 percent.

The BPD has made an arrest in just one of 21 homicides in Roxbury. And in just two of 26 homicides of victims in their 20s.

Those responsible for the numbers all appear to be serious, dedicated, well-intentioned people: Commissioner O’Toole, Deputy Superintendent Daniel Coleman, who now heads the homicide squad; Superintendent Paul Joyce; District Attorney Daniel Conley; and David Meier, who heads Conley’s homicide unit.

Good people. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see why they shouldn’t all be fired, demoted, or voted out. They have completely, utterly failed at their task.

As the Phoenix noted earlier this year, research suggests that unsolved murders lead to more murders. They leave killers on the streets, promote the ease of getting away with murder, and encourage retaliatory violence.

We’re living the evidence. Last year’s official homicide-arrest rate was just 28 percent, and look what’s happened. This year has seen even less success, and the killing rate has increased again, with 23 homicides in the fall. Scarier still, arrests have been made in just four of those last 23 murders, a 17 percent rate.

With that backdrop, and the continued move of the bubble generation into their most dangerous years, it’s not a stretch to think that the 2006 body count could approach the 99 average of Boston’s deadly decade between 1986 and 1995.

With few resources and fewer ideas, Boston officials could turn to people and ideas that have had success elsewhere. Albuquerque, Fort Worth, Sacramento, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee have all maintained high homicide-arrest rates in recent years, while their murder rates have dropped. Atlanta’s murder rate has plunged in the past two years. So, what are they doing right?

You won’t catch anyone around here asking that question. Instead, we get whatever ideas pop into the heads of the same people whose ideas didn’t work before. That’s how you get Mayor Menino’s pointless and patronizing offensive against "Stop Snitchin’" T-shirts — which, as one Egleston Square teen reminded this reporter last week, is almost as dumb as when Menino blamed violence on sneakers hanging from telephone wires (supposedly a way that gangs mark territory).

Then District Attorney Dan Conley did him one better: he blamed the problem on those who are depraved enough to attend a friend’s murder trial. Apparently doing so is an act of jury and witness intimidation, thwarting justice and emboldening killers. At a press conference last week, Conley asked Bostonians to counter by packing courthouses in solidarity with the victims.

Undoubtedly there have been occasions of attempted witness intimidation via the courtroom "evil eye." But they are rare, at least in Boston. This reporter never saw it when visiting murder trials this year. No juror has been quoted in the local media citing intimidation as a factor in any acquittals or hung juries. Court officials do not perceive it as a problem.

At the same press conference, Conley also unveiled a program through which he is recruiting and training dozens of local religious leaders to assist in criminal investigations by gathering information and persuading witnesses to talk.

How this does not undermine the legal sanctity of clergy confidentiality in Suffolk County is unclear. Regardless, the point should prove moot: now that Boston’s religious leaders have publicly lined up as informants, it’s hard to see how they’ve got a shot at gaining the trust of teens anyway.


The distrust of law enforcement, to the point of outright hostility, is evident to anyone who has talked recently to adolescent and young-adult males in Boston. It is a far, far worse attitude than that found on the same streets just five years ago, a change the department learned of from its survey of Bostonians conducted in late 2003, which was first disclosed by the Phoenix in January 2005. Satisfaction dropped most drastically in neighborhoods where most of the city’s youth live: East Boston, South Boston, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury. Fear of crime had also jumped since it was last surveyed in 2001, while the view of BPD officers as "fair and respectful to all people" declined sharply, especially among African-Americans.

Those who have had limited personal experience with criminal-law enforcement hold a general belief that criminals receive small punishments when caught doing minor crimes, and more serious punishment if proven to have committed more serious crimes. People in Dudley Square, Codman Square, Franklin Hill, and elsewhere know otherwise. Over and over again, law-enforcement agents decide first who to send away, and for how long, and then they do what they must to make it happen.

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Issue Date: December 30, 2005 - January 5, 2006
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