|Low Turnout at Crime Watch Symposium
|By Rick Winterson
The Crime Watch Symposium took place in the Convention Center last Saturday morning. It was a concentrated session, featuring nine panelists, guests from three successful crime watches around Boston, and a number of speakers and questioners from the floor.
Much was learned. Perhaps the three key facts that arose were the drug-related nature of many of our crimes, the efforts of the police coupled with the need for civilian cooperation, and most importantly, that crime watches do indeed work. The meeting concluded on an optimistic note – “We can do this. It’ll work”.
But there was the proverbial fly in the ointment. Only 60 attendees from the South Boston neighborhoods showed up. This is a very small number from an area having 30,000 residents. Fortunately, the attendees were those whose concern and actions on behalf of South Boston are well known, but it has to be asked: Where were the concerned parents who talk about how worried they are about their children? Where were South Boston’s newcomers, who now number more than half of local homeowners? One thing for sure, none of them were at the Crime Watch meeting!
State Rep. Brian Wallace chaired the event. After a welcome from MCAA Executive Director Jim Rooney, Wallace thanked him for some excellent preparations and introduced state Sen. Jack Hart. Hart expressed his confidence in the Crime Watch concept and mentioned the $11 million awarded to Boston from the legislature for anti-gang programs.
Wallace singled out Tom “Bobo” Connolly and Helen Allix as being especially supportive of community action against crime. City Council President Michael Flaherty stressed the importance of working together, and thanked B.P.D. Capt. Paul Russell for his efforts since he began heading up District Six.
Capt. Russell went over the recent crime statistics in South Boston. Last year, overall, crime was down by 14%, when the eight categories of serious crimes were compared in total to 2004. Breakings and enterings (B&Es) are a bit less than 2004, although up 40% over 2003. Russell connects this to drug usage in the area. Larceny from motor vehicles is sharply down, which he attributes to educating drivers not to leave valuable items in their cars – an interesting stat, because it shows that preventive programs will work. The tragic death of Jean Lampron is still under investigation.
In his remarks, John McGahan, who is the Director of the Cushing House, brought up a single shocking statistic: The average age when the young people he deals with turn to drugs (not alcohol) is now as low as 12 years old. In his words, “We are still inundated with drugs, and we can’t ignore it. We have to keep at it, again and again and again.”
Two Assistant District Attorneys, Kevin Cloutier and Kristen Stathis, spoke briefly, promising their office’s cooperation in any community efforts. Rep. Wallace saluted Mary Binda as the person who thought of having the symposium in the first place. State Police Community Officer Brian Dunn said that nine new officers are breaking in at the Day Boulevard barracks – he hopes a few will stay there on assignment.
Following the panel’s remarks and presentations, the meeting was opened to questions. Mark McGonigle, a street worker, gave his number (617-635-4920) and asked for information and cooperation. Since 9-1-1 calls from cell phones default to the State Police, Mary Binda suggested that everyone program the direct cell phone number to the local police – 617-343-4911 – into their speed dialers. Good idea! Ed Flynn spoke up concerning the need for additional police officers, an issue that everyone in Boston seems to agree with.
Most important, it was once again emphasized that everyone must get involved in reporting unusual circumstances of any kind. Many of the B&Es are taking place in broad daylight. Even individuals who are homebound can play a role in reporting possible crimes before they happen. Look for strangers with backpacks hanging out.
Ed Oliver/Bohld offered to organize and completely fund a six-person bicycle patrol to facilitate on-street watches and a community presence. Don Wilson, Interim President of the South Boston Chamber of Commerce, asked that business cooperation be enlisted right away, especially in getting out the word that meetings and other crime watch activities are being scheduled.
Rep. Wallace said that another two self-defense classes for women are in the planning phase – the first class filled up quite rapidly. He also reported that negotiations are underway for one or two storefront headquarter locations to house the Crime Watch. He also emphasized that the Crime Watch is really “Neighbors Helping Neighbors”.
At the end, those at the symposium took a candid look at the reasons for the low turnout, especially of concerned parents. Rep. Wallace mentioned that six of ten current residents have lived in South Boston for five years or less, and that they aren’t taking part. Tom Connolly bluntly asked why more didn’t come, and stated, “Those who don’t get involved haven’t any right to complain later on.” Even the location (as nice as the Convention Center is) and the use of the five-dollar word “symposium” was questioned.
Helen Allix offered to set up the next Crime Watch meeting, possibly at the Condon School. More details later. BUT SIGNIFICANTLY GREATER ATTENDANCE, INPUT, AND PARTICIPATION IN CRIME WATCHES FROM SOUTH BOSTON RESIDENTS ARE NEEDED.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Saturday afternoon sessions consisted of presentations by members of other Crime Watches in Boston. The presentations were excellent, but space requires that these be the subject of a second article.)