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Some laud new antiviolence effort

Police try new tactic with gangs

By Marissa Lang
Globe Correspondent / July 2, 2010

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The city’s newest effort to curtail gang violence by engaging families as well as arresting known gang members is a step in the right direction, community and public health leaders said yesterday.

But some warned that the program will succeed only if the city commits long-term support to the effort, which will focus on up to 300 people whom police have identified as key players in gang violence.

City, state, and federal leaders described the new program, known as Partnership Advancing Communities Together, or Boston PACT, as a comprehensive approach to addressing the city’s growing gang problem. Violence starts and ends in the home, even though its most visible effects may play out on the streets, several officials said at a press conference to launch the program at police headquarters yesterday.

“Siblings of gang members are very high risk,’’ said Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, a partner in the collaborative. “We need to get [families] the kind of support they need to make changes.’’

The key, officials said, is that the program looks at violence as a public health concern, not just as a crime or safety issue.

In light of several recent shootings and the killings of two 14-year-old boys, city leaders said it is clear that more needs to be done than arresting and incarcerating troublemakers. The trauma that violence causes among parents and siblings of perpetrators still needs to be addressed, Ferrer added.

Organizers know their goals are lofty. With shrinking resources and constrained budgets, agencies will have to use existing resources to accomplish their goals. For example, earlier this year the city cut the staffing at eight community centers.

Cory Manhertz, a life coach at Boston Urban Youth Foundation, said the success of such programs typically hinges less on dollars and cents than on the dedication of those involved.

“If they’re just knocking on doors but don’t have much to offer, it’s not going to change anything,’’ said Manhertz, who attended the press conference. “But if the outreach is sincere, and they’re really there to help, and they don’t all scatter once there’s a speed bump or a hurdle like there always is, then I think this program will really help.’’

One of the challenges is that gangs are becoming more unpredictable and harder to track, Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said after the press conference. So, he said, the city’s strategy must also evolve.

Unlike previous initiatives, the PACT program is not a short-term program aimed at curbing summertime violence, police Superintendent Paul F. Joyce said. Joyce said the program, which is still being shaped, will likely run for six months before being evaluated, allowing organizers to determine its effectiveness and pinpoint any changes that are needed.

Joyce said arresting gang members is still a top priority, but the city will go beyond that and actively engage family and community members in support services.

The collaborative will focus on 15 neighborhoods, from Mattapan to the South End.

“We’re not just going to knock on doors; we’re looking to get into the households,’’ Joyce said. “We’re looking to strengthen them so they can help us stop the violence in future generations.’’

Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@globe.com.

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