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Deterring crime on 2 wheels

Bike patrols help Hub police raise visibility

Boston Police Officers Pat Flaherty and Stephanie O'Sullivan patrolled Bowdoin Street in Dorchester on bicycles. Boston Police Officers Pat Flaherty and Stephanie O'Sullivan patrolled Bowdoin Street in Dorchester on bicycles. (Bill Greene/ Globe Staff)
By Akilah Johnson
Globe Staff / October 3, 2011

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Everyone has a story to tell, and on this day on this street, Boston Police officers Pat Flaherty and Stephanie O’Sullivan are there to listen.

Amos Lamour stops them near the top of Bowdoin Street to describe how he was punched in the left eye last year and rushed to the hospital with a fractured orbital bone. “I almost died, but God was with me,’’ he says. Now, Lamour does not have problems, he says, for two reasons: He works nights, and there are more police along Dorchester’s Geneva Avenue-Bowdoin corridor, part of a neighborhood that has witnessed a spate of violent deaths.

Farther down, near Eunice Street, a woman recalls when officers patrolled the neighborhood on horses. Now, they use bicycles.

Outside Walgreens, where Bowdoin meets Geneva, Alex Bennett’s father tells the officers his son, who just turned 10, was looking for wrestling action figures. “He started youth watch on our street last year by himself,’’ Alex’s father says, beaming as his son exchanges a high five with O’Sullivan.

This, police brass say, is exactly the point of bike patrols - to make police officers more visible, and more human. That personal connection is a key element in the department’s strategy to stem violence along the corridor, which has endured at least seven homicides within a 2-mile radius this year, the most recent Sept. 25, when two teenage boys were shot, one fatally, while making a quick trip to the corner store.

Surveillance cameras will be mounted, patrols increased, and collaborations strengthened with neighborhood watch groups. And undercover investigations will be launched, the most recent of which netted 14 men wanted on drug charges.

Boston’s police department has Safe Street Teams patrolling hot spots in 14 neighborhoods. In the neighborhood defined by Bowdoin and Geneva, eight officers ride bikes from 4 p.m. until about midnight.

To expand coverage, the department enlists probationary officers to fill the void when a member of the team is away, said Deputy Superintendent Randall Halstead.

The bikes, Halstead said, are an extension of officers walking a beat and getting to know residents.

“It’s more effective,’’ Halstead said, less than a block from a sidewalk memorial that marks where Jaivon Blake, 16, was shot dead Sept. 25 “What it all boils down to is having them talk to us, because we’re only as effective as we can be when people talk to us.’’

Blake’s 14-year-old friend is recovering from his gunshot wounds and expected to survive, a police spokeswoman said. No arrests have been made in the case.

On this day, Flaherty and O’Sullivan, both June graduates of the police academy, trade in their patrol cars for bikes, complete with lights and sirens, halfway through their 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift.

“It’s way more personal when we’re on the bikes,’’ said Flaherty, born and raised in Dorchester. “We’re almost forced to have an interaction.’’

“Because,’’ O’Sullivan said, “we’re right at street level with them.’’

They hop off their bikes and walk inside businesses to talk to clerks and owners. At Walgreens, they ask the security guard how things are going.

“You guys were getting hit there for awhile,’’ O’Sullivan says, as the guard assures her there have been no problems of late.

And when they pass houses with children carrying backpacks, O’Sullivan calls out: “How you doing guys? How was school today?’’

“Good,’’ the children respond in enthusiastic unison.

“Kids are our best customers,’’ Flaherty explains.

They do more conventional police work, too, responding to calls for service and quality of life issues, such as broken windows, graffiti, and public drinking.

The officers stop and talk with elderly men sitting on milk crates at Bowdoin and Norton streets, where Victor Gomes was murdered during the July 4th weekend.

Not far from there, O’Sullivan spots a silver Chrysler Sebring parked two feet from the curb in a bus stop, hazard lights flashing. The license plate appears to have expired.

“Pat, I got one for you,’’ O’Sullivan said, turning to her partner. “Just check it out.’’

Flaherty radios in the plate number. Had they been in a car, the pair could have done this themselves with the dashboard computer.

It turns out the registration is current. The car is a rental, but the company had not renewed the sticker on the license plate. So the officers let the driver go with instructions to tell the rental car company to fix the problem.

You never know, Flaherty says. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was caught because of a traffic stop.

“Nothing,’’ he said, “is routine.’’

Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson2.