Using innovative strategies, law enforcement agencies here helped reduce
homicides 80 percent from 1990 to 1999, the sharpest drop in the nation.
two and a half years in the late 90's, not a single juvenile was killed
The police and prosecutors from around the country flocked here to study
the "Boston model," and it has been incorporated as a crucial component
President Bush's main crime-fighting strategy.
But in the last two years, the number of homicides has doubled, a trend
accentuated by the death this month of a 10-year-old, Trina Persad, who
struck in the head with a shotgun blast in a park in Roxbury. The police
she was shot by gang members cruising in a car in search of rivals, the
of random killing the Boston model was supposed to prevent.
Trina's death and the sudden increase in homicides have raised an angry
question: What went wrong with the vaunted approach to reducing crime?
Among law enforcement officials, politicians and experts on criminal
justice, it is a risky issue, because the Boston model, emphasizing creative
partnerships among agencies like the police force and probation agencies,
offers a distinct contrast to the other most successful crime-fighting
strategy of the 1990's, that of New York City.
The New York strategy, fostered by Police Commissioner William J. Bratton
and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, was more aggressive, going after small
quality-of-life crimes like panhandling and subway-turnstile jumping and
holding police commanders responsible for reducing crime in their
To explain the homicide increase here, Police Commissioner Paul F. Evans
and Mayor Thomas M. Menino point to trends outside their control like the
downturn in the economy, meaning fewer jobs for young people; an increase
the number of inmates leaving jail and prison; and the growth of the teenage
But those factors exist in many other parts of the nation, and other
officials and experts involved in creating the Boston strategy say the city
may have become complacent, a victim of its success.
In part, said Donald K. Stern, who as United States attorney in Boston
the Clinton administration helped develop the Boston plan, "the numbers
pushed down so low they eventually had to go up."
Homicides fell, to 31 in 1999, from a high of 152 in 1990, at the height
of the epidemic of crack cocaine, gangs and handguns.
Last year, the number of homicides jumped, to 66. This year, through
10, the number is 29, identical to the total for the same period last year,
according to the Boston police.
"We also have to be honest and admit that some of the missionary zeal
the original players was hard to sustain with the success we achieved,"
Mr. Stern, now a lawyer with Bingham McCutchen here. "The people coming
later may not feel the urgency in their bones as much."
That is particularly true for a critical part of the plan known as
Operation Cease-Fire, Mr. Stern said. Cease-Fire involved calling in young
men with criminal records for meetings with unusual teams of law enforcement
officers, including representatives from the police, the Federal Bureau
Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as well as the United States attorney's
office and the district attorney's office.
The men, often gang members or suspected drug or gun dealers, were warned
that they were being watched and were told they would face serious prison
time if they committed violent crimes with guns. In one publicized incident,
a gang member with a felony conviction who ignored his warning was given
10-year federal prison sentence for possession of a single bullet. It is
federal crime for a convicted felon to possess a gun.
"Part of the secret of Cease-Fire was that you have to follow up," Mr.
Stern said. "You have to keep warning people, and if they commit more
violence, you have to get them and give them long sentences to make an
example of them."
One problem is that teenagers now have no memory of how tough Operation
Cease-Fire was at its inception, Mr. Stern said, and they have no friends
who were sent to prison as a result.
There is also a question about how effective the warnings have become.
One of the two men arrested in the shooting of Trina Persad, Marquis Nelson,
23, was released from the Suffolk County prison in April after six months
custody for the illegal possession of a firearm.
Before his release, Mr. Nelson was warned by a team of law enforcement
officers working in the prison as an offshoot of Operation Cease-Fire. A
Cease-Fire team warned Mr. Nelson again six weeks before the shooting,
Commissioner Evans said.
Asked about Mr. Nelson's case, Mr. Evans said, "There is no 100 percent
guarantee that the warnings will work."
David Kennedy, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard
who helped formulate the Boston plan, said the answer was that the
Cease-Fire program had lost its way. "As it existed in 1996 or 1997,
Cease-Fire is entirely gone," Mr. Kennedy said.
Instead of focusing on the most dangerous suspects, the warnings have
been watered down and are being given indiscriminately to large groups like
schools, Mr. Kennedy said, "like old-fashioned police work."
Mr. Evans strongly denied that.
Mr. Kennedy said he had been told that his participation was no longer
welcome, as a result of envy by some law enforcement officers who wanted
claim credit for Boston's success.
Mr. Evans said the finger-pointing missed the larger point. Overall
violent crime here is at its lowest level since 1971, and even the 66
homicides last year were fewer than in any year in the 70's or 80's.
"The Boston model still works," Mr. Evans said. "We just have to keep