A day in the life of a community service officer (CSO) in the Boston Police Department (BPD) can hold a great many surprises, the Gazette recently learned after sitting down with Officers Carlos Lara, Antonette Ramsay and William Jones of Jamaica Plain’s District E-13 Police Station.
From counseling troubled teens during softball practice, to taking seniors to prom, to performing CPR on a 14-year-old shooting victim, to undertaking more mundane police work like writing traffic tickets and patrolling the neighborhood, the job is not a dull one.
“We’re very happy to work with everybody. This is the community’s police station. We’re their servants,” Lara said.
Lara has been part of BPD for 26 years, all of them serving JP. He started while JP was part of the larger District 5, which covered Roslindale and Hyde Park as well as JP. When District E-13—which covers JP exclusively—was created in 1996, he asked to be assigned here.
“It used to take us so long to get out here” from the old district headquarters, he said, which hindered community relations.
“When I first came here [to JP], it looked run-down. There was so much crime, drugs on every corner. Now, it’s beautiful,” Lara said. “Hyde/Jackson was a real big mess. I love how it is now.”
Now, with a smaller, local station and regular beats, the officers feel they are a much more integrated part of the community.
“The best thing was the adoption of ‘neighborhood policing,’ when we really started fostering relationships with the community,” Lara said. That policy requires that all officers on patrol spend part of their time patrolling on foot instead of in a cruiser.
“That philosophy made a big difference. It makes our job much easier and improves the general quality of life,” he added. “We have a great district here. It’s a young station, developing into great officers,” Lara said.
CSOs focus less on investigation and more in intervention, Lara explained.
“We try to educate the community and respond to their concerns,” he said.
For example, an average day for Ramsay, a Juvenile CSO, might include looking other the previous days’ activity logs for anything that might merit her follow-up, checking in with local Boys & Girls Clubs for referrals, or talking with local social workers.
Ramsay began serving as a Juvenile Officer at E-13 four years ago, after a few years of working the streets, “responding to robberies, shootings,” she said, before the spot opened up.
“We noticed a lot of the people we were placing under arrest were kids. If we can decrease that amount by reaching out to them—why not do it? So we’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.
A lot of the kids the CSOs come into contact with have never been downtown or visited many of Boston’s historical museums and landmarks, a duty the officers take joy in undertaking.
“We also introduce them to the police department. Some of our kids have even met the commissioner. We take them on facility tours and jail tours,” Ramsay said. “Not to scare them, but to give them a sense of what’s it’s like.”
Ramsay also spends part of her week coaching at-risk girls’ softball.
“It’s very challenging. The girls are at risk for so many things that could harm their future,” like dropping out of school, becoming involved in gangs, or simply not having a support system at home.
“When I started, I knew nothing about softball. But I knew that I had to keep them active and help them build healthy relationships with the police department,” she said.
Ramsay also works with gang resistance training in five different schools. Some of those programs last as long as 13 weeks, and she herself had to attend a specialized 5-week training course to prepare.
One of the more pleasant duties of a CSO is driving the community service van, a vehicle used to transport any group of community members that requests it.
Recently, Jones had the pleasant duty of transporting a group of senior citizens to a prom.
“If they contact us ahead of time and the schedule is open, we’ll do it,” he said. He added that he’d be perfectly willing to drive high school seniors to their prom, but he’s never had such a request.
He also frequently uses the van to ferry kids from school to Curtis Hall on South Street for afternoon programming. During a recent Gazette visit, he was out of uniform because he was getting ready to take a group of kids to a baseball game, using the van.
The Community Service desk offers other services, like parenting programs that teach parents and kids about City programs, state housing programs, the court system, health centers and other resources.
“Having those workshops really helps parents because they get new tools,” Ramsay said.
Lara said a recent high point of his career happened after the marathon bombings, while he was evacuating people out of hotels in restricted areas. A 100-year-old woman with a walker declined his help, folded her walker into the car and gingerly sat herself down, unassisted.
“That was awesome. I was thrilled to have someone like that in my cruiser,” he said. “It was a great feeling.”
Jones, recounted a story where, while chasing a suspect into a vacant lot following heavy rain, he stopped running when he realized his shoes were sinking into the mud. A fellow officer pushed him aside, running at full speed. Within a few steps, however, the other officer—whom Jones declined to name out of politeness—had lost both shoes and had fallen face-first into the thick mud.
“The nonsense on this job is off the hook,” Jones said. “Career criminals try to lie to you with a straight face, trying to get away, talk themselves out of trouble.”
The team is clearly devoted to their duty and each other. Ramsay praised Lara for his devotion.
“We start [our shift] at 7:30 a.m. Carlos is at his desk at 6,” she said.
“It’s my time to breathe before everyone gets here,” he explained.
Lara earned fame early in his career by cheating death during a drug bust at the Bromley-Heath development. In 1987, when bullet-proof vests were optional equipment that officers chose to purchase themselves, Lara—then a 28-year-old rookie—was shot in the chest, highlighting the importance of using the vests.
Community members looking for services can reach the CSO desk by calling 617-343-5624.