Banned in Boston again?

By DAVE O'BRIAN  |  November 14, 2006

Neither extreme, of course, tells the whole story, but a lot had to go wrong down there before the dramatic shift in coverage-from stripping as harmless fun to teenage prostitution as a societal sickness — would occur.  And the chief difficulty seemed to be police confusion over how strictly, if at all, vice laws were to be enforced in the Zone. Indeed, the entire force in District One seemed to take literally State Rep. Barney Frank’s prediction that, as fleshing entertainment gains social acceptance, “I expect that eventually you’d find the police getting more and more tolerant of the Combat Zone.”

“The concept was a correct one,” argues Jon Straight, Governor Dukakis’s “reform” appointee to the Boston Licensing Board, the agency with the responsibility for controlling the goings-on in liquor-licensed establishments and a history of not doing so.  “The problem is that the people down there were sort of allowed to operate within their own guidelines once the Zone was created.  That, combined with years of wrist-slapping form this board, gave the owners the feeling they could get away with anything.”

When the zoning change was first approved, the question asked in police officialdom was “whether the department should, or could, begin enforcing the law selectively and, you know, blink its eyes occasionally at certain street happenings so long as they occurred in the Combat Zone. The question was answered forcefully by Gary Hayes, aide to Commissioner Robert DiGrazia (both now work in Maryland), that such a possibility was out, that selective enforcement is illegal.  “But though it could never be an official police policy,” says the BRA’s John Sloan, “That, in fat, is exactly what did happen.”

The Zone proprietors have been bitching that if the zoning experiment hasn’t worked, it’s because the police, who opposed it from the start, didn’t want it to work, that they harassed the clubs while ignoring the increased streetwalking.  “And in Boston it’s street prostitution, not indiscretions inside the bars, that leads to violence,” contends Morris Goldings, attorney for all of Teddy Venios’ alleged Combat Zone ventures.

Responding to Goldings, Police Supt. Doyle, now head of Field Operations, offers, “It’s a question of where you want to get robbed-inside our outside?”  Doyle claims there was always a police presence in the Zone, but he does admit that under diGrazia the department’s priorities were elsewhere.  “There was a real problem in the neighborhoods with gangs of kids drinking beer and raising hell,” Doyle said, “and that’s where the bulk of our complaints were coming from.”  So the Tactical Patrol Force and other specialized units were reassigned from downtown to the neighborhoods, leaving law enforcement in the Combat Zone to the cops of District One.  And we all know what they did.  Nothing.

We know that mostly, of course, because diGrazia, before he left town, made public an explosive internal report of his Special Investigation Unit (SIU) that traced alarming patterns of “corruption and/or incompetence” among the cops of District One, the area that includes the Combat Zone.

Some of the more spectacular revelations in that document, already reported widely, included internal surveillance reports of policemen taking payoffs in the Zone and a handful of badapple cops associating openly with known hookers with the knowledge, and apparently blessing, of the district Command Staff.

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  Topics: Flashbacks , John Sloan, Boston Redevelopment Authority, Boston Licensing Board,  More more >
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