Under pressure to take action against gangs, Governor Mitt Romney and Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday stood with black ministers at a Grove Hall news conference to tout $1.5 million in state money earmarked for increased policing of gang activity.
The money -- to be split between Springfield and Boston -- was approved by the Legislature earlier this month as part of a $439 million supplemental budget. But with Statehouse hearings on gang problems this week and mounting community frustration in parts of Boston over the recent spike in violence, Romney and Menino assembled law enforcement officials and black clerical leaders to publicize it.
''Too many of our families are grieving and too many neighborhoods are being threatened," said Menino, warning gang members: ''We will find you. We will arrest you and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."
The $600,000 designated for Boston will be used to beef up police activities in Mattapan Square and the Morton Street-Talbot Avenue neighborhood, Menino said. The money will be spent over two years. Police officials declined to give specifics but said the funds will probably be used to bolster Operation Neighborhood Shield, the city's two-month-old anticrime campaign.
''It can be used for a variety of programs that target violent gang offenders," said police spokeswoman Beverly Ford, including prisoner re-entry efforts, extra police patrols, overtime for investigators or youth athletic programs offered by the Police Athletic League.
During the first weeks of Operation Neighborhood Shield, Boston and State Police, together with federal agents, swarmed high-crime neighborhoods in widely publicized sweeps, arresting hundreds of people and confiscating weapons and drugs. Now police say they plan to shift their focus to intelligence-gathering and preemptive investigations. They hope to recruit informants and target ringleaders.
Although lauding lawmakers for sending help, one of the ministers at yesterday's announcement said gang problems spring from problems that require greater resources. The Rev. William E. Dickerson II, pastor of the Greater Love Tabernacle in Dorchester, said communities need jobs programs and more outreach workers to counsel at-risk youth and run programs for recently released convicts trying to readjust to life outside of prison. The money highlighted yesterday by Romney and Menino, he said, is ''a good gesture" but not enough.
''Kids need meaningful jobs," he said. ''Summer jobs are just a band-aid. Things churches are doing, programs, there isn't enough money. We do it with volunteers. We need to pay some full-time people."
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley, who attended the announcement, said prosecutors also need more money.
''I am very grateful to the governor for dedicating additional resources to Boston to combat gang violence," Conley said. ''But I would remind the administration that while policing is absolutely critical in the battle -- handling these cases doesn't end with arrest. I hope the administration will consider additional resources for prosecutors here and around the state. We are also an important partner in the battle."
Calling Operation Neighborhood Shield ''extremely helpful," Romney cited some of its early successes. Since the crackdown was announced in early August, the rate of aggravated assaults in the city dropped 8 percent and non-fatal shootings, 54 percent, he said.
''We've got a real problem," said Romney. ''It's not just in Boston, but in Springfield. The problem is getting worse, not better. It's amazing how quickly things can change."
Romney recalled Tyrone Britton, 18, of Hyde Park, who became the city's 46th homicide victim in late August. He was killed only hours after being released from prison.
''He was trying to turn his life around," said Romney. ''One young woman on TV said 'Why does this always have to happen to our friends?' I don't have an answer. We are not done and we cannot rest until we can answer that young girl's question -- why do our friends have to die? -- and we can answer that they don't."
Romney said the Legislature decided how the $1.5 million would be divided up. Springfield, which will receive the remaining $900,000, is under management by a state control board. It has severe financial problems not shared by Boston, Romney said.