New Boston commissioner says community policing, gun violence top priorities

By Suzanne Smalley, Staff Writer
The Boston Globe

By the way, if you want to drop a photo right in the article, put in a frame or table:

Newly inducted Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, right, is given the oath of office by Federal Judge Mark Wolf during Monday ceremonies, in Boston. (AP Photo)
Boston, Mass.- Edward F. Davis III, who will be sworn in today as Boston's police commissioner, vows to make gun violence his top priority while improving the department's community policing program.

Davis said the fatal shooting last week of a former gang leader who was deeply involved in preserving a four-month truce with a rival gang especially concerns him.

"I want to focus like a laser on violent crime, particularly shootings," Davis said. "I think that this truce process is extremely interesting, and I'd like to explore continuing it, maybe expanding it."

He disputed some community leaders and department observers who question whether Davis can enhance community policing without hiring many more officers. Davis said officers have down time and can become more efficient.

"To prevent crime you need to get out of the cruiser, you need to talk to people who haven't necessarily called you and find out what's happening in their neighborhood, and then do what makes sense to prevent crime," he said.

Last month, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau said the department had 2,055 sworn officers, the most since January 2003, when there were 2,138. There were 2,279 officers on the street in 1999, when homicides in the city plummeted to 31 from a high of 152 in 1990.

In a wide-ranging interview last week, Davis said he plans to immediately distribute a survey throughout the department to produce ideas for reform. "What I'm interested in looking at is not any one specific complaint, but trends across the department . . . to try to uncover some things that maybe need to be changed that people don't like," he said.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino tapped Davis, 50, in October to replace Kathleen M. O'Toole , who left in July after just more than two years on the job to take a position with the Irish national police force.

After a nationwide search and interviews with a half-dozen candidates, Menino settled on Davis, who was also a finalist the last time the job was open in 2004. The mayor's choice of a career police officer, with experience as a sexual assault detective, a beat cop, and more than a decade as an urban police chief, did not surprise many observers, who believe Menino wants a strong manager to referee the department's internal factions and a longtime beat cop with a sound knowledge of the basics of policing.

Still, Davis will have to navigate his relationship with the mayor, who is known for close oversight of the police department. Many rank-and-file officers are questioning how much autonomy Davis will have, especially because he hails from a department one-tenth the size of Boston's.

Davis called Menino "concerned, and appropriately so" with crime and said he considers their relationship healthy.

"Everybody has a boss," he said.

Davis also played down reports of a conflict with the former city manager in Lowell, who once imposed a gag order on him, which Davis flouted.

He said he has no plans to change the department's command staff, adding that he hopes to work closely with Superintendents Paul Joyce, who runs the department's investigative branch, and Robert Dunford , who runs the patrol force.

Some community leaders say the department has been damaged by divisions between Dunford and Joyce, a conflict that O'Toole did not address, even as Joyce withheld intelligence information from Dunford. It was only after media inquiries that O'Toole wrested control of the intelligence operation from Joyce and supervised it herself.

"There are people who are loyal to doing things Dunford's way and people who are loyal to doing things Paul Joyce's way," said Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts and a close observer of the department. "Commissioner O'Toole was very strong and effective externally and probably not as strong internally. . . . The challenge Commissioner Davis has is he's going to have to establish the tone for his administration in both places."

People who worked with Davis in Lowell say he is unafraid of conflict and should be able to quickly neutralize internal feuds.

He clashed with police unions, even provoking a no-confidence vote from the Lowell Police Patrolmen's Association in 1999 for his handling of a department sexual harassment case.

O'Toole, by contrast, had an unusually cooperative relationship with Boston's powerful police unions.

"He's no shrinking violet, that's for sure," said Lowell Mayor William F. Martin Jr. "Clearly, Boston has some serious problems, but I think you're getting a problem-solver. That means battling with the union when necessary but working with them, too."

Davis said he looks forward to working with the Boston police unions, whose contracts are currently being negotiated, and noted that his father was once a union treasurer.

He described his relationship with the police union in Lowell as "fair and open."

Officer John Boutselis , the head of the Lowell police patrolmen's union, however, characterized the relations as rocky.

"People get stuck in their ways," he said, calling Davis's departure "a very good change for us."

Boutselis said he believes the biggest challenge Davis will face is Boston's aggressive and competitive media market.

"That's something he's never had to deal with," Boutselis said. "He has a very carefully crafted public persona up here in Lowell."

Jorge Martinez , a frequent partner of police and the executive director of Project RIGHT , a nonprofit group in Grove Hall that emphasizes public safety issues, said Davis has his work cut out for him.

"The new commissioner is going to need a lot of financial and political support to do his job," he said. "I'm hoping, but we'll see."

Martinez said he recently attended a meeting with Davis, where the commissioner promised "one-to-one exchanges between civilians and law enforcement officers."

"I was thinking that's going to be hard because now instead of two officers in cruisers, you have one because there's not enough police officers on the ground," he said. "You have people running from one incident to another instead of having time to stop and smell the roses."


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