BPD cultivates community

October 5, 2007
By

David Taber

HYDE/JACKSON/EGLESTON SQ.—If the Boston Police Department (BPD) can pull it off, as much as $1 million in federal funding to enhance social services and establish a framework for increased community input in policing priorities may be available for neighborhoods in JP.

The funding would come from the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Weed and Seed program. If the BPD, which is coordinating the grant application, is successful, up to $250,000 a year could be funneled into the community over the next four years, said Jennifer Maconachie, director of the BPD Office of Strategic Planning and Research.

The sum is not huge—even the DOJ web site admits “Weed and Seed is foremost a strategy—rather than a grant program.” In coordinating the process, however, the BPD is taking on a significant community-organizing task.

Before it applies, the BPD must convene a steering committee to identify community priorities on both the social service, or “seeding,” and the crime reduction, or “weeding,” sides. The BPD will submit a letter of intent next May and formally apply in September, 2008.

Maconochie identified violence, drug-dealing, prostitution and quality-of-life issues as some of the areas the committee might focus on for weeding.

They also decide what activities to seed. “These might be services for ex-offenders, drug treatment or youth services,” she said.

The area the grant will cover, which runs south along Day Street from Heath to Paul Gore, and extends southeast to Walnut Street in Roxbury, has “a need but also a capacity,” Maconachie said, “The whole area has a lot of community support and community resources.”

Maconochie listed Urban Edge, the Hyde Square Task Force, the Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation (TMC), the Academy Homes tenant’s association and Hyde/Jackson and Egleston Square Main Streets as some of the organizations the BPD is hoping to get on board.

BPD Strategic Planning and Research staffers are in the beginning stages of meeting with these organizations to determine what their priorities are and will soon hold a community meeting to select the steering committee, said Bob Francis of MassHousing, who has been assisting the BPD with outreach.

Despite the grant’s name, Maconochie said, as she understands it, the funds themselves would go to the seeding initiatives. The main benefit for law enforcement would be the establishment of a framework to facilitate communication with the community.

“If the community says this is what we want to focus on, the district captain would want to focus on that anyway,” Maconochie said.

The state Attorney General’s office and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office have both secured Weed and Seed grants for other Boston neighborhoods in the past, but this is the BPD’s first try.

Mildred Hailey, executive director of the Bromley-Heath TMC, said it is “much too early to comment” on the BPD’s efforts.

“The concept is great. It’s great any time you can get additional resources,” Hailey said, “The notion of the police and the community working together is certainly one I support.”

Both Hailey and Francis mentioned mental health services as a possible focus area.

Grove Hall Weed and Seed

Despite the fact that federal funding cuts off after four years, a Weed and Seed program has been operating in the Grove Hall neighborhood in Roxbury for the last decade.

“It actually works pretty well if people work with what’s behind it. It is people working together to address public safety, community safety, prevention, intervention, treatment and neighborhood restoration,” said Michael Cozu, who works for the Grove Hall community organization Project Right as Weed and Seed Coordinator.

In Grove Hall, community meetings are held five times a year, and steering committee meetings occur seven times a year. The meetings provide a forum for coordination between the community and the Mayor’s Office, the BPD, and the District Attorney’s Office and other government agencies, in addition to the Attorney General’s Office, which was the lead organization for Grove Hall’s original Weed and Seed grant.

The forums and the funding, among other things, facilitated the renovation of the Jeremiah Burke High School and the construction of the Brunswick Gardens Middle School. One of the priorities the Grove Hall community put forward is the need for community space, and these new facilities are intended to serve a dual function, Cozu said.

Through regular meetings with city officials, the community was able to initiate a hearing before the Boston Licensing Board to deal with an “an establishment” that was staying open past 2 a.m. and drawing as many as 500 people into the streets, Cozu said.

“It helped us to deal with that public safety issue,” Cozu said.

There has been a downward trend in crime over the 10 years Weed and Seed has been operating in Grove Hall, Cozu said, with increases in the last few years, which he attributed to cuts in state and federal law enforcement funding.

Statistics provided by the Boston Police Department show that in precinct B-2, which includes Grove Hall, incidents of violent crime increased by 8 percent between 2001 and 2005, compared to a citywide increase of 6 percent. During the same time, however, property crime fell by 23 percent, compared to an 8 percent citywide drop. Violent crime hit as low ebb in 2003 and 2004, according to the statistics, whereas property crime continued its downward trend.

Cozu said the Weed and Seed program has survived by seeking funding from other sources after the end of the first four years. They have received, among other things, a federal Drug Free Communities Support Program grant and funding from the state budget.

“We have gotten support from elected officials at the federal, state and city levels,” Cozu said.

Maconochie agreed that, if the new JP/Roxbury application is successful, other funding sources will likely open up. “Its something that shows people this is a community that has a plan, and you can use that to leverage other funds,” she said.