If crime-fighting is more like a marathon than a sprint, Jamaica Plain appears to have found a good police captain.
Capt. Kelley McCormick, the newly appointed commander of the local E-13 Police Station, is training for the New York marathon. He’s been using exercise as a way to learn JP, whether jogging around the pond or walking the business district.
“I’m not an office person,” McCormick said in a Gazette interview in his still sparsely-furnished office. Indeed, he eagerly left the office with the reporter at the end of the interview, ready to meet and greet more residents.
McCormick is 41 years old and looks even younger. He exudes energy that, he said, JP is quick to match.
“There are so many people in JP who want to reach out and help,” he said, adding that JP stands out among other Boston neighborhoods. “I think, per capita, you have the most community groups and activist groups.”
“And a lot of great food,” he said with a laugh, referring to the offerings from local restaurants at local crime watches and the Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association meeting.
McCormick previously was in command of the Boston Police Department’s (BPD) anti-gang Youth Violence Strike Force. That gave him experience in JP’s Jackson Square area.
“That’s an area that has 98 to 99 percent of great people trying to live their lives, and 1 to 2 percent who are the urban terrorists who are making it tough for people to live there,” McCormick said, speaking shortly before a recent raid of the Bromley-Heath housing development for alleged drug dealers. [See related story.]
Crackdowns on violent criminals are important, he said, but added that job training and similar initiatives are, too. “We have to reach out and offer other stuff besides handcuffs,” he said.
McCormick said he’s getting to know leadership of the Bromley-Heath better. He also hopes to start some new programs, including a baseball program in which local youths can play the police.
His experience includes something JP hopefully won’t need anytime soon—major crowd control for such events as the Democratic National Convention and the World Series.
McCormick also worked in Egleston Square some years ago during the era of gang violence. He said the improvements in that area are remarkable.
While youth violence is a concern again in JP like it was during the 1990s crime wave, McCormick said there are key differences.
“There are different dynamics to the violence,” he said. “There’s more retaliatory violence.” Many incidents involve personal grudges instead of gang wars, he said, explaining that a dispute that was “in the old days a fistfight is now settled with a gun. It’s like Hatfields and McCoys.”
That makes it all the more important that police and youths know each other, so the pattern of revenge can be tracked and stopped, he said.
But the biggest concerns McCormick has heard while paying calls around the neighborhood are items like crosswalk safety, graffiti and noise, he said.
“It’s not the major things like homicide. It’s quality of life,” he said.
Among other things, he said, he’d like to see the trolley tracks removed from Centre Street and some “alternative method” found for adding a bike lane through the area.
McCormick is constantly seeking more input, stating a goal of visiting all local storefronts and elderly housing complexes. He said he already enjoys JP’s diverse business districts. “Everything else in the world is being overrun by Pottery Barn,” he said.
When one recent community meeting failed to convene, McCormick said, he hung out in the parking lot playing soccer with local kids, instead. “I was playing soccer in my uniform,” he said. “I had a blast.”
He also met recently with local City Councilor John Tobin. “He’s sharp,” Tobin said of McCormick in a Gazette interview. “I came away from the meeting pretty impressed and eager to work with him.”
A realistic challenge to all local police efforts is the low number of officers.
“Right now, there are not enough,” McCormick said. While there are incoming classes of new officers, there is also massive retirement in the ranks. “It’s like trying to fill a bathtub with an eyedropper when somebody pulled the plug,” he said.
The separate Boston Municipal Police division is supposed to merge into the BPD as of Dec. 31. That means E-13 will now patrol former Municipal Police terrain, including Jamaica Pond and Arnold Arboretum, McCormick said.
“There are opportunities to be very creative, not just stick a police car in there,” McCormick said, adding that he’d like to use bicycle patrols at the pond.
McCormick is replacing former commander Capt. James Claiborne, who served only 11 months. McCormick is also E-13’s fifth commander in 10 years. The transfer of the popular Claiborne led to criticism from City Councilor John Tobin and some residents that JP’s police captains don’t stick around long enough.
McCormick acknowledged the concern, but emphasized that the police are always focused on the same issues, whoever is in command. He said his priorities are keeping in place programs that are working, and being as visible as Claiborne was.
McCormick also acknowledged a report that he spent about the first week of his new command on vacation. That’s because he learned of the promotion while he was already on an out-of-state vacation.
McCormick grew up in East Boston and Springfield, studied in Ireland and graduated from Suffolk University Law School. His sports passions are baseball and the marathon effort, where he’s up to 18 miles so far. “I don’t think I’m going to win it,” he joked of the upcoming New York race.
He’s also an active advocate of adoption and organ donation. They’re deeply personal issues for him, he said—he and his wife have an adopted son, and his wife is an organ donor recipient.
McCormick also enjoys historic architecture and how it adds to the character of neighborhoods. In JP, he noted, that can balance well with less desirable aspects like traffic.
“You can look at a nice house when you’re sitting on the Jamaicaway,” he said with a laugh.