Boston launches coordinated plan to curb gun violence
City safety leader getting right ‘diagnosis’ is essential to applying right treatment
ISAAC YABLO, Mayor Michelle Wu’s senior advisor for community safety, says a shortcoming of efforts to rein in those responsible for gun violence in Boston has been that “we gave them the wrong diagnosis and therefore [applied] the wrong solution.”
He says the nature of gun violence in the city has changed significantly since the bloody days of the 1980s and early 1990s, when city streets were wracked by gang violence that sent Boston’s homicide count soaring. Homicide numbers are down dramatically since that time – the city recorded 40 homicides in both 2022 and 2021 compared with 152 in 1990.
But that’s not the only change. Unlike the era of gang-driven violence when lots of perpetrators and victims were in their late teens and early 20s, Yablo said perpetrators and victims of gun violence today are older – and harder to reach through traditional services like job training or connecting them with programs to complete high school.
The average age of those shot in Boston so far this year has been 29, said Yablo, and it has averaged at least 25 for nearly a decade. Although there are troubling trends of young people carrying guns, Yablo said they largely are not the ones responsible for actually using them.
Yablo is the point-person for a new city initiative that aims to reduce gun violence through a coordinated effort of police, health workers, and a reconstituted street outreach worker program.
The Gun Violence Reduction Management Team plans to hold weekly meetings where its members can share information on trouble that has recently occurred – or that may be brewing, based on what those with their ears to the ground are hearing.
At the heart of the effort is a recognition that a tiny number of people are responsible for most of the gun violence in the city, and that it generally occurs in very specific “hot spot” locations. Yablo, with his focus on getting people to turn away from gun violence, prefers to refer to those areas as “opportunity zones.”
Zeroing in on gun violence hot spots is not new. But Yablo said a strong bent toward services is something different.
“I would say this is the first time in the city’s history where we have had a focus not on locking them up but connecting them with high-quality services so they can desist from gun violence,” he said.
The city gained national notoriety for its success in driving down gun violence in the mid-1990s, a carrot-and-stick strategy that combined offering services with the full weight of law enforcement coming down on those persisting with gun activity. But Yablo said the strategy led to many of those involved in violence getting locked up for petty crimes, the effects of which are still being felt today by their children and others who are impacted by incarceration of a family member.The new gun violence reduction initiative was hatched following a several-day workshop in Boston this spring led by the Center for the Study and Practice of Violence Reduction at the University of Maryland. The center works with cities across the country to deploy evidence-based approaches to gun violence tailored to their unique set of circumstances.
“One of the things I admire about Boston is that folks are impatient, they’re not resting on their laurels,” said Abt. He said the hard work of the new initiative now lies ahead. “But I think the plan is on track,” Abt said of Boston’s blueprint.