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Menino reaches out to Dudley Square residents

Reynolds D. Graves

Mayor Thomas M. Menino toured the streets of Dudley Square on Monday night, hearing residents’ safety and lifestyle concerns and getting a firsthand look at the Roxbury neighborhood.

“We’re going to the people, instead of the people coming to us,” Menino said as he headed out on the “Operation Night Watch” tour, joined by Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis, city cabinet officials and members of the Boston Police Department (BPD) Dudley Square Safe Street Team.

“Why do we do it at night?” Menino asked before the start of the trip. “Because at night it looks a little different than the daytime. … It’s a great way of getting a feel for the way people feel about the place they live, and also what services we can provide in the best manner we can.”

The walkthrough started at the Blair parking lot across from 1120 Harrison Avenue, proceeded up Dudley Street and turned onto Forest Street before stopping at Mt. Pleasant Park. There, Menino and staff noted that several streetlights were out, and there was an accumulation of trash and debris in the area. At several points along the walk, officials cited sections of damaged sidewalks and other quality-of-life concerns.

“When people come home and their kids are out playing, they want the lights on [and safe] sidewalk conditions,” said BPD Deputy Superintendent William Gross, commander of Zone 2, which covers Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and South Boston. “We have a lot of elderly [residents] here, and we’re worried about the conditions of the sidewalk.”

During the tour, Menino and Davis stopped to shake hands with residents, many of whom gave the city officials a warm welcome.

While Menino noted that his administration conducts such visits every year in many neighborhoods for various reasons, he said they chose Dudley Square for this walk “because of the shooting that recently happened.” Soheil Turner was killed while waiting for a bus on Dudley Street on May 7, 2009. He was 15.

That shooting and several other recent incidents have raised fears in some quarters that violence may escalate as summer approaches.

According to BPD statistics released Monday, there had been 22 homicides in Boston from the start of the year through June 1, two fewer than the same period in 2008. The decline continues a recent trend for the city. After the annual homicide count reached a 10-year high of 75 in 2005, the city has seen fewer killings in each subsequent year — 74 in 2006, 65 in 2007 and 63 in 2008.

There has been, however, a sharp rise in shootings in 2009. While the number of homicides committed with the use of a firearm (18) was the same as last year, the number of nonfatal shootings has jumped considerably. Through the first five months of 2008, the city had seen 62 nonfatal shootings; this year, there have been 92. Police have made 279 firearm-related arrests this year, up from 230 in 2008.

In Area B-2, the police district that includes Roxbury and Mission Hill, homicides were up over last year, as were incidents of rape and attempted rape, burglary and attempted burglary, larceny and attempted larceny, and vehicle theft and attempted vehicle theft. The district has seen fewer aggravated assaults, robberies and attempted robberies.

Police commissioner Davis stressed the importance of the Safe Street Team, a squad of six officers that patrol the Dudley Square area on bikes as part of the BPD’s ramped-up focus on community policing.

“I saw some very, very good things and saw some things that need to be taken care of, and that is why we are all together,” Davis said. “… In the spring and as we go into the summer, crime spikes. We pay attention to the small things, and the big things [will] take care of themselves.”