Top cop

at a park on the corner of Talbot and Washington in Dorchester’s Codman Square, a sea of blue uniforms behind him, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis is announcing the expansion of his Safe Streets initiative. For the previous six months, teams of officers on foot and on bikes have been deployed at three high-crime “hot spots” around the city: the Theater District, the Grove Hall neighborhood on the Roxbury-Dorchester line, and Dorchester’s Bowdoin Street and Geneva Avenue. Now, with gun violence continuing its assault on city dwellers-and on the sense of security across a broad swath of Boston neighborhoods-nine places are being added to the list, including two in the Codman Square area itself.

Since his tenure as police chief in Lowell, where he served from 1994 until he took over as Boston commissioner last December, Davis has been an ardent proponent of community policing. Under this approach, which has enjoyed widespread support in recent decades, officers don’t simply race in cruisers from call to call. Instead, they interact more regularly with residents and walk neighborhood beats in the old-fashioned manner, with an eye toward nipping problems in the bud and discouraging crime. In the commissioner’s view, this preventive approach is the only way to get ahead of crime problems. Such thinking is hardly new in Boston, where it has been embraced to varying degrees for more than two decades. But it almost seems a quaint throwback these days, when the response to each new shooting seems to be a plea from police for information from residents who increasingly shun cooperation with authorities.

The 60 or so officers standing behind Davis on a late August afternoon make up the new Safe Streets teams, and the podium is flanked on both sides by police on bicycles. Inside the wrought-iron fence that encloses the park, a few black ministers and Codman Square business owners huddle. But most of the handful of neighborhood residents present—almost all of them African-American—are standing outside the fence, looking in. This tableau seems to capture the situation now facing Davis: a community largely distant from the police but still curious about what the new commissioner might be up to.

Standing 6-foot-6, with the build of a football tackle, the 50-year-old Davis is hard to miss. Dressed in a dark suit with a yellow tie, he looms over Mayor Tom Menino, who stands stand next to him at the lectern. The commissioner reads his prepared remarks without much expression. It’s when he puts down his notes and begins to speak extemporaneously that he finds his voice. Two weeks ago a woman with a young child was shot by a stray bullet in a Dorchester parking lot, he reminds the onlookers. And only three days before, a Salem State College student, T’Shana Francis, was murdered by a gunman who fired wildly on a normally quiet Mattapan side street.

“Gangs are not soldiers,” says Davis, his inflection rising. “This is not a war. It is neighbors killing neighbors. Individuals must stop this. Innocent women are getting killed! If you know the perpetrators of these crimes, tell them it is unacceptable. If you are related to them, tell them this is unacceptable.”

The passion and resolve in Davis’s voice are unmistakable. If determination was everything, Ed Davis, who until last December led a police force barely the size of some Boston districts, might already have solved the city’s epidemic of gun violence. But Davis, above all, knows this can’t happen. “What I was trying to emphasize in those remarks was that the police can’t do it alone,” says Davis later. “The only way to stop the violence is to get the public to rise up against it. We need a cultural shift—something like Mothers Against Drunk Driving back in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s more important what mothers and grandmothers say than what I say. The police can’t organize it. It has to come from the people most affected.”

Still, a major part of the solution must come from the police and others in the law enforcement world. And though he brings his own well-honed style, informed by an innovator’s appetite for new approaches to crime fighting, Davis knows he is being measured by a past yardstick: the “Boston Miracle” of a decade ago, when the homicide rate plummeted from 150 in 1990 to 31 in 1999. (At one point, Boston went two-and-a-half years without a juvenile homicide, something almost unthinkable today.) Despite the name, this “miracle” didn’t emerge from thin air. An almost seamless collaboration among police, prosecutors, probation officers, and state and federal authorities, all working with community groups, made Boston a nationally recognized success story in reducing violent crime. As much as he seeks to put his own stamp on the department, Davis knows the task is to re-create a version of that model—to rejuvenate partnerships among law enforcement agencies and to regain the trust of the community, both hallmarks of those heady days of the late ’90s.


It is a significant challenge. From that low point of 31 homicides in 1999, Boston’s murder count rose to 74 in 2005 and 75 in 2006. (As of early September, homicides were running slightly behind last year’s rate.) Gang warfare, which terrorized Dorchester and Roxbury during the height of the crack epidemic in the early ’90s, has attracted a new generation. This time it’s fueled less by drugs than by personal disputes over ill-formed notions of “respect” that trigger cycles of deadly retaliatory violence—often with indiscriminate shootings into crowds. Three women were killed by stray bullets in the first six months of 2007. In a recent survey of 200 young Bostonians aged 14 to 24 in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, 85 percent said they had at least one friend who was a victim of gang-related violence. That there is often not even a conflict over illegal commerce involved in today’s shootings only adds an extra measure of madness to the mayhem, and it makes even more vexing the task of developing strategies to end the violence.

‘The only way to stop the violence is to get the public to rise up against it. We need a cultural shift.’

Equally troublesome, in an atmosphere of fear and distrust in the afflicted communities and a “stop snitchin’” culture scornful of cooperation with police, law enforcement officials have been unable to make arrests in many of these cases. Police say witnesses are simply unwilling to come forward. The department was able to solve only 29 percent of the murders committed in 2005 and 38 percent of the homicides last year. Those rates are far below the 53 percent average from 1994 to 2003 and significantly lower than the 60 percent national rate for “clearing” homicides, defined as making an arrest, issuing a warrant, or identifying a suspect. The rate of clearance in nonfatal shootings in Boston is even more dismal: a breathtakingly low 19 percent during the first six months of 2007. Rev. Ray Hammond, a cofounder of Boston’s clergy-based Ten Point Coalition, states the challenge bluntly. “You cannot inspire confidence if you cannot clear cases,” he says.

As part of his effort to repair the breakdown in community trust, Davis has answered questions at more than 60 neighborhood meetings, and he shows up regularly at crime scenes. The Safe Streets initiative—made up almost entirely of new officers—is central to his community policing strategy, but he has also has set up an anonymous text-messaging tips hotline, which is credited with solving two recent slayings, and has increased the number of detectives in the homicide division.

An uncooperative and fearful citizenry hasn’t been the only problem. Conflicts within the 2,000-person Boston police force during the past few years haven’t helped the situation, either. Kathleen O’Toole, the previous commissioner, who left in July 2006 after a rocky two-and-a-half-year tenure, was widely viewed as ineffective in dealing with the internal conflicts of the department. Specifically, a rivalry between Robert Dunford (head of the Bureau of Field Services, which oversees all uniformed officers) and Paul Joyce (who ran Investigative Services, directing the department’s detectives and specialty units) was described in one Boston Globe editorial as “internecine warfare” and is thought to have hurt the department’s efforts to move effectively against gun violence. “The lack of harmony within the department has been hampering its ability to respond,” says Hammond.

In mid July, Davis moved to settle the factional strife. As part of a sweeping set of top-level personnel changes, Davis appointed Dunford superintendent-in-chief, making him the clear number two man in the department and empowering him to oversee both Field Services and Investigative Services. He moved Joyce to a position where he would be developing community-based crime-fighting initiatives. Meanwhile, Davis had already moved in February to bring back Gary French—a 25-year veteran of the force who led Operation Ceasefire, the centerpiece of the successful anti-violence efforts of 1990s—to once again oversee the Youth Violence Strike Force, the department’s anti-gang unit. It was a welcome sign to many that Davis wants to revive some of the tactics that proved so effective during the city’s crime-fighting heyday of several years ago.


Those moves met with broad approval, particularly among the leadership in the city’s black community, where nearly all of the gun violence is centered. Things have not gone as smoothly, however, with the one change Davis has made that is targeted most directly at concerns over the department’s success in solving gun violence cases. As part of the command staff overhaul he announced in July, Davis also replaced the head of the department’s homicide division, Deputy Superintendent Daniel Coleman, as well as the overall chief of all police investigations, moves widely seen as an effort to improve the lagging clearance rates.

The removal of Coleman was met with an unusually harsh and public rebuke from Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley. Under state law, the Suffolk County DA has control of Boston homicide investigations, though previous district attorneys have shied away from direct involvement in police personnel matters. However, Conley said by replacing the head of homicide unilaterally without any consultation with the DA’s office, Davis made a damaging break with longstanding practice. (Things turned unpleasant again a few weeks later when Conley excluded Davis from the announcement of a high-profile murder arrest.)

“The commissioner has just unilaterally thrown out decades of communication, collaboration, agreement, and joint decision-making,” Conley told the Globe shortly after the decision was announced. Conley suggested the replacement of Coleman was driven by pressure Davis was under to solve homicide cases quickly, without investigating them thoroughly, something Conley said he was not going to acquiesce in. Reacting angrily to the idea that he should not feel free to make his own command staff decisions, Davis shot back at Conley. “I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in my life,” Davis told the Globe.

For his part, Davis insists the link between his personnel changes and clearance rates is “minimal, at best.” The dispute with Conley is “more political than operational in nature,” he insists. “We haven’t had one disagreement over the progress of a case or the direction of an investigation or prosecution.”

Some tension between the police commissioner and the DA’s office is inevitable, according to former US Attorney Don Stern. “It is not uncommon that there be some disagreement between enforcers and prosecutors,” he says. “But having it spill over into the public realm is not a good thing.” Stern suggests that the focus on clearance rates— something that both the police department and the DA’s office must work together on—is revealing. “My guess is that some of the public part of this is simply good people frustrated at how things stand,” he says. “The fact that it [clearance rates] has become a flashpoint suggests to me just how important this issue is.”

Speaking in early September, Davis struck a conciliatory note about the tensions with Conley. “We are working to resolve this,” he insisted. “We have to be on the same page.”

The spat between Davis and Conley is a contrast to the crime-fighting partnerships of the ’90s.

Only days later, however, the rift between the two leaders widened, as Conley announced that he planned to deploy state police detectives who work under his jurisdiction to investigate all homicides in Boston occurring on MBTA property, as well as at state-controlled parklands. Conley insisted the move was not part of an ongoing beef with Davis, but was intended to aid homicide work by relieving overworked Boston police investigators of cases. Boston police leaders saw things differently. The head of the police detectives union told the Globe he was “dismayed and disgusted” by what he called the “small-time politics” behind Conley’s move. Davis issued a statement citing Conley’s “apparent lack of consideration for what’s in the best interest of the public safety” in the city. The department dismissed the idea that the move would relieve the burden on city homicide detectives, saying murders on the T and state parklands “represent less than 1 percent (six homicides in seven years) of BPD homicide investigators’ workload.” Conley did not respond to multiple calls seeking his comments on the rift.

A spat involving the city’s two leading law enforcement officials, which stands in such sharp contrast with the partnerships that were the hallmark of the crime-fighting successes of the 1990s, casts a depressing shadow over efforts to gain control over the current wave of urban violence. Jorge Martinez, executive director of Project Right, an anti-crime community organization in Grove Hall, worries that the conflict between Davis and Conley sends a signal that Boston law enforcement authorities are not working together. “Gang members read the Herald,” says Martinez in reference to that newspaper’s front-page headline BIG SNUB on an August 2 article about tension between the two officials.


Within the Boston Police Department itself, the appointment of the Lowell police chief was met with some initial skepticism. According to one department source, some Boston cops looked at Davis “the way an NFL player would look at a very promising college coach who had just taken over an NFL team: You did pretty well in the minors, but this is the big leagues.” That attitude may be changing. “He is coming in with new ideas,” says French, the gang unit commander. “He is decisive. He has a vision and he is marching to that vision.”

Among community leaders, Davis is getting positive early grades. “In terms of gaining the community’s trust, he has made all the right moves,” says the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, another co-founder of the clergy-based Boston Ten Point Coalition. Even Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, who is often more willing than other black leaders in the city to throw a sharp elbow, fairly gushes about the city’s new top cop. “In the six years I have been in Boston, this is the smartest appointment that Tom Menino has made,” he declares. “You’re not going to change things overnight. But if there’s a guy who can change it, it’s him,” he says of Davis.

Davis can claim some early success, with nonfatal shootings down in Roxbury and Dorchester by 30 percent in the first six months of the 2007. But the commissioner knows that his tenure will be judged by whether he can sustain that trend over the long term. And solving shooting cases, which goes hand in hand with lowering gun violence in general, depends on convincing a wary and often fearful public—including those mothers and grandmothers he appealed to on that day in Codman Square, but also Boston’s young people—to see the police as allies, not enemies.

Davis must convince a wary and fearful public to see the police as allies, not enemies.

“When policing was invented,” says Davis, “Sir Robert Peel talked about police being citizens and citizens being police. Unless a community agrees to be policed, it can’t be policed. If you think about policing that way, the fundamental responsibility that we have is engaging the support of the public so that they’ll talk to us, they’ll call us…. That is what it is all about. It is not about the size of the guns you have. It is about your ability to convince people that you are there for the right purpose and that you are a benefit to them.”

It is difficult to pigeonhole Davis. In many respects, he’s “a cop’s cop,” who came up through the ranks of the Lowell police department by taking on a couple of the least savory beats in the force: vice and narcotics.

Still, the adjectives that people apply to him are “calm” and “approachable.” “Even if there is a shooting or a homicide, he just brings a calmness along with him,” says Martinez, the Grove Hall neighborhood leader. “The patience that man has… I haven’t seen him angry yet.”

John Wooding, a former U Mass–Lowell provost who served on a race relations council that Davis organized in Lowell, points to another trait, one not usually linked to the local constabulary. Davis, he says, is “something of an intellectual.” The two would meet over drinks and talk community development and urban revitalization. Over the years, Davis has served on teams reviewing grant proposals at the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the US Department of Justice, a role that exposed him to cutting-edge ideas in criminal justice policy and tactics.

In Lowell, Davis surrounded himself with academics and criminal justice “policy wonks,” something he has continued in Boston. Davis has tapped Anthony Braga, a criminal justice researcher at Harvard’s Kennedy School who worked with him in Lowell, as his policy advisor. Dunford has seen Davis mix that intellectual curiosity with toughness. “He must read everything that he can get his hands on,” says Dunford. “He is always questioning you about this study or asking you, ‘They did this here, what is the implication for us?’”


Davis practically grew up in the Lowell police force. His father was a Lowell police officer, and the son always wanted to be a cop when he grew up. He joined the Lowell department in 1978, at age 22. Ironically, it was his father’s death that same year that opened up a spot for him on the force. In 1982, he became a detective in the vice bureau, investigating sexual assaults. He moved over to the combined vice and narcotics squad in 1985 and headed it for almost 10 years.

By the mid 1980s, Lowell had become the source city for heroin and cocaine in New England. At one point, six people in one family were burned to death in a Molotov cocktail attack on a drug house. “It got to the point,” says Davis, “where people wouldn’t buy property or locate businesses there because of crime and the perception of the city as extremely dangerous.”

Davis says he was brought up in “the culture of arrest and prosecution—‘If we just get enough of them in jail, the crime rate will drop.’” He operated on that philosophy, and during the period he headed the combined vice and narcotics unit, the number of search warrants increased from five to 200 a year. But despite all the search warrants and drug seizures, the city was looking worse and worse every year to Davis. “I was spinning my wheels,” he says. “I made a whole career on making a lot of arrests and getting a lot of awards, but the truth of the matter is that by 1993 or ’94, I had hit a brick wall. In spite of all the arrests and all the people I had put in jail, I wasn’t able to stop crime from occurring.”

It was around that time that Davis went to the Senior Management Institute for Police at Harvard’s Kennedy School, a three-week course in which he lived with police officers from other jurisdictions. The ’90s were the heyday of community policing, and he spent time with working cops from cities like Chicago, Tampa, and Reno, Nev., who were taking this new approach and having some success with it. There he had his “Road to Damascus” experience. He learned from fellow practitioners and instructors that policing could be preventive, not just reactive, and that when you approached it that way, the crime rate could drop. The philosophy, as he explains it, was simple: Instead of waiting for a kid on the corner of Olney Street in Dorchester to sell drugs and then lock him up, only to watch him get out and sell drugs the next day, you could put one policeman in uniform standing on that corner. But that officer in uniform wouldn’t necessarily make an arrest, which means the department might not get a data point to throw around.

The city of Lowell became Davis’s ‘laboratory,’ and then a national model for community policing.

“The truth is that people don’t care about statistics,” Davis says. “What they care about is, can they walk down to the corner safely? By putting one officer there, the crime doesn’t get committed and the neighborhood is safer.”

According to Davis, National Institute of Justice studies on crime displacement show that, when a walking beat officer is present, 60 percent of crime just goes away, rather than being shifted to new venues. “I’ll take a 60 percent reduction any day,” he says.

When Davis became the police chief of Lowell in 1994, he got a chance to put some of his new ideas into practice. The city would become his “laboratory,” according to former US Rep. Marty Meehan, now chancellor at UMass–Lowell. As 5th District congressman, Meehan worked closely with Davis on the implementation of Bill Clinton’s 1994 omnibus federal crime bill. “The Clinton administration was interested in investing in models to show that community policing would work, and Lowell really was a national model,” says Meehan. “Ed was the architect.” Davis thus gained a national profile in law enforcement circles.

As chief, Davis inherited a department that was poorly trained and severely undermanned. He opened storefront police precincts across Lowell and instituted foot patrols. He increased the size of the department by almost 100 police officers, tapping into $13 million in state and federal anti-crime money. (He also put every officer through the same course at the Kennedy School where he had first been exposed to community policing.)

He took ideas that were successful elsewhere and applied them to Lowell. From Boston, he adapted Operation Ceasefire, which relied on enforcement “levers” to quell youth gang violence—offering social services but also using other criminal justice agencies to threaten gang members with loss of probation, federal sentencing, and the like if they didn’t stop shooting. From New York City commissioner (and one-time Boston chief) William Bratton, he took the CompStat system, a management tool that, through biweekly meetings, holds police captains accountable for rates of crime in their districts.

Davis attended hundreds of community meetings in Lowell and appeared on cable TV call-in shows, where he tried to bridge the gaps between the various ethnic communities and the police. When Davis’s version of Operation Ceasefire had little effect on warring Asian gangs in Lowell, he and his team researched the unique structure of the groups, discovering that gang “elders”—in their late 20s and 30s—shunned street violence in favor of gambling rackets. Police promptly put the squeeze on gambling dens. According to Braga, during the nine-month period when these police operations were taking place, gun violence declined by 24 percent in Lowell, the homicide rate was cut in half, and there wasn’t a single incident of Asian gang violence recorded in the city.

All wasn’t perfect for Davis in Lowell. When he left, the police chief could claim an impressive 60 percent decrease in gun violence in the city from 1993 to 2005. But homicides spiked in 2006, jumping from two the previous year to 14. Such “statistical abnormalities” are not uncommon, asserts Davis, and in 2007 the numbers seem to be back to previous levels (two murders so far this year). Meanwhile, he sparred on the pages of the Lowell Sun with city manager John Cox, who, according to media accounts, was eager to push Davis out and replace him with one of his allies. In 2003, Tom Menino considered him for Boston police commissioner, but chose Kathleen O’Toole instead; the next time around, Davis was the mayor’s choice.

“He was the candidate who really stood out,” says Menino. “He understood community policing—same cop, same beat. Folks in the public safety realm thought he was a perfect fit.” The mayor adds that there has been “a lot of energy in the department” since Davis took over.

“I knew from my personal conversations that Ed was meant for bigger things,” says Meehan. “If he didn’t go to Boston, he would have gone someplace else. He was ready for greater challenges.”


It’s a Tuesday evening in Boston in late summer and, with a member of his security detail behind the wheel, Ed Davis, spokesperson Elaine Driscoll, and a reporter are driving around Boston’s crime “hot spots” in the commissioner’s SUV. Davis does these ride-arounds as often as his schedule allows (usually once a week) to observe his Safe Street teams in action. There isn’t much happening this evening. The night before, however, gunfire had injured two people on the Boston Common and a bullet from the shooting pierced a window at the State House, one floor below the governor’s office. The media is all over the story. In response, Davis has assigned a second Safe Streets foot-and-bicycle team to the Common. More than anything else, the evening ride-around becomes an exercise in management—managing the media, the mayor, and the police department itself.

The trip begins in Mattapan and Dorchester, passing well-kept homes, roadside memorials to victims of youth violence, and an old brick synagogue turned into a Haitian Seventh-Day Adventist church. The SUV passes Lucerne Street, where 25 people were arrested in a major crackdown on gang violence this spring, but where the shooting still hasn’t stopped. Then it is down Blue Hill Avenue. “There is a lot of stable housing and good families here,” says the commissioner. “It is unfortunate that the retaliatory lifestyle of small groups of kids is ruining it for everyone.”

By the time the SUV gets to Codman Square, the commissioner is on the phone with the mayor, warning him that the bullet which struck a member of the Youth Violence Strike Force during a gunfight with a gang member back in May was actually fired by a state trooper—not by the gang member, as originally thought. “It’s going to be in the papers,” he tells the mayor. “I just thought you should know about it first.”

At the corner of Bowdoin Street and Geneva Avenue, the commissioner notes that this area had the heaviest shooting in the city when he started the job. Now a Safe Streets team patrols the area. “They made a big difference,” he says. At the corner of Bowdoin and Olney, now largely quiet, he says that 30 kids formerly hung out in front of a check cashing place, selling marijuana and essentially controlling the block.

The SUV eventually makes its way downtown—avoiding the media frenzy at the Common—and Davis chats about police attitudes toward walking a beat. “From the cop’s perspective, the downside is not having the protection of a car from the weather,” he says. “Not being able to get somewhere when something is going on. It takes away some of their capacity to move around. But on the other hand, they become mayor of the block. It’s a pretty good deal.”

On a side street next to the Four Seasons Hotel he spots a Safe Streets team, seemingly hanging around and doing nothing. He gets out of the car and engages in good-natured banter, but he can’t be very pleased. “I’ll tell you what the downside of walking beats is from my perspective,” he says, back in the SUV. “Making sure they are where they should be!”

Davis’s determination to be out on the streets as much as he can, to connect with his officers and the public, has impressed a lot of people both within the department and outside and differentiates him from many of his predecessors. It’s not just a matter of stylistics. “Any major crime scene, he’s out there, talking to officers, talking to the community,” says French, the reinstated gang unit commander. “It gives a sense of calm to the officers in a chaotic situation to have the commissioner out there, a sense of order.”

When a shooting happened on Washington Street in Dorchester, not far from where the Rev. Jeffrey Brown lives, the minister went to the crime scene and there was Davis. “My first reaction was: What is the commissioner doing here?” says Brown. “You get the sense that he wants to be a field commander rather than a pencil pusher.”

Another major aspect of the commissioner’s visibility has been his attendance at community meetings. State Rep. Marie St. Fleur organized a meeting between Davis and about 150 of her constituents in early January, shortly after he arrived in Boston. Held at a Columbia Road middle school in Dorchester, the meeting featured a panel of young people who laid out a litany of complaints about their treatment by police, including frequently being pulled over and harassed, they said, for no reason. “But he was never defensive,” St. Fleur says of Davis. “He said he would put a structure in place to report this activity. He walked us through it so we got an education on how police thought.”

State Rep. Marie St. Fleur says the
new commissioner has moved to
repair badly frayed relations with
the public.

St. Fleur also says that constituents have told her staff that police responsiveness has improved, in part because some of the young officers have some competency in Cape Verdean and Haitian Creole. On Bowdoin Street these days, you can see officers communicating with both kids and business leaders, she says.

But even if things are starting to change, Davis faces a long road to repair the relations that have badly frayed, says St. Fleur. “The breach in the trust for the police has grown significantly since when I started in the Legislature in 1999. But it is actually being talked about now. They are putting things in place to grow that trust. You didn’t have that before.”


The lack of trust in the police is related to the reluctance of people to give evidence and to testify in cases involving gun violence. Behind that is the “stop snitchin’” culture which has stubbornly entrenched itself in Boston—and other cities—in recent years. Emmett Folgert, longtime executive director of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, a center for at-risk teens, sees this as part of the “subculture of murder.”

It used to be that murder and bank robbery resulted in the highest arrest and conviction rates, Folgert says, but a “tipping point” came after recent gang formation. “People became so afraid of the gangs that it overwhelmed a basic tenet of human nature—that you didn’t want to live next door to a murderer,” he says. “And the testifying stopped.”

The best hope for Davis, he believes, is to get community relations to the point where the police can persuade people to be brave enough to give them accurate information about what happened, even if they are not willing to testify. Law enforcement authorities can then get those responsible for violence off the street on other charges, as happened during the Boston Miracle. “That can go a long way to knocking down crime,” says Folgert.

By bringing back Gary French to oversee the gang unit, Davis signaled that many of the tactics of Operation Ceasefire would return. Davis, who had first met French when the two were evaluating research grants for the National Institute for Justice, praises him for his “in-depth and textured knowledge of gangs.” “Operation Ceasefire is back,” says Davis flatly. “Gary is running with the ball with Ceasefire.”

French talks about reaching out to “community-based partners” and “solidifying relations with different law enforcement agencies” that the gang unit has worked with over the years, including other police departments, probation departments, prosecutors, and federal law enforcement officials. The role of interagency cooperation was underscored earlier this year when 25 members of the Lucerne Street gang —responsible for a third of shootings in the city last year, according to Davis—were arrested after an 11-month investigation, with seven of them sent away on federal charges.

Beyond the crackdown on established gangs, one recent episode involving two boys in the prime “at risk” window for turning toward gang involvement heartened both French and Davis. One day over the summer, an 11-year-old and a 12-year-old knocked on the door of the Youth Violence Strike Force, located in a tough stretch of Dorchester, and turned in a loaded firearm that they had found. “It’s a terrible situation, but that was a ray of hope,” says Davis.


Rays of hope are better than nothing, and they can offer encouragement that more good news may follow. That seems to be how most community leaders are viewing Davis’s first 10 months in office. With the possible exception of Conley, the district attorney, it’s hard to find any crime prevention leader who doesn’t give Davis good reviews so far.

Some of the elements that played a part in the resurgence of Boston’s gun violence problems—socioeconomic factors, the “stop snitchin’” culture, cuts in federal anti-crime funds, the demographic bulge of young people at the beginning of new millennium—are beyond the abilities of one man and one police department to fix. Still, it appears that under Ed Davis, there is a willingness to try new approaches, and also to bring back some that have lain dormant. “Police departments are conservative organizations,” says Dunford. “At a certain level you get uniformity of thought. He is shaking that up. He is looking for people who move outside the circle.”

Davis is battling the “uniformity
of thought” that can hobble police
forces, says second-in-command
Robert Dunford.

Back in Dorchester, on the day that Davis introduced his expanded Safe Streets initiative, a young black man named Chris leans against the Codman Square park fence. He grew up in Dorchester and remembers the violence of the early 1990s. Things are “crazy” now, but still not as bad as they were then, he says. He has a positive impression of Davis and likes the idea of community policing. “The important thing for the police is to interact with you, to talk to people one on one,” he says. “They don’t talk to you when they are in packs.”

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Chris is exactly the kind of person Davis needs to win over to his vision of a “city on a hill” where the police and community work together in harmony. “The numbers are going to determine how successful we are,” the commissioner says. “We have to look at prevention of crimes as our main goal—getting those numbers down—and we will announce specific reduction goals in the coming year. But almost as important is the level of trust in the police department.” Ever the wonky believer in statistical analysis, Davis emphasizes that there are ways to measure trust in the police department, too, using surveys of public satisfaction with the department from the 1990s as a baseline, for example.

Still, on that day in Codman Square, the commissioner says that he, too, was struck by the sight of those local residents standing outside the fence and looking in at the police and the media inside. “The separation that exists between the community and the police is something we are working hard on,” he says. “People are always nervous to approach police. It is our responsibility to approach them and make them feel comfortable with us.”