A Casey Foundation study last year listed the four major adolescent predictors of violent criminal activity as teen pregnancy, time in state custody, time in the juvenile-justice system, and dropping out of high school. Check, check, check, and check for a large number of these teens.
Find a trait predictive of violent criminal behavior, and this group has it. By now, many teens have been through Department of Youth Services detention at least once, and have seen someone shoot or be shot. They have developed a solid distrust of police. And they are teenagers — poor judges of character and prone to quick-tempered action.
This generation began to make its mark on crime stats two years ago.
Despite the drop in homicides, in 2003 the city saw a rise in overall violent crime, with particular jumps in gun crimes and juvenile arrests. Juvenile arrests (age 16 and under) rose 14 percent from the prior year — and were a startling 53 percent higher than in 1995. As the Phoenix wrote in its first issue of 2004, six teenage minors were murdered in 2003, more than in the previous four years combined. “Homicide as a response to a bad situation seems to be a theme that’s not losing steam,” Suffolk County sheriff Andrea Cabral told the Phoenix at the time. “Weapons are a first response, and youth have a limited concept of consequences.”
Several other things happened in 2003 that put inner-city kids behind the criminal eight ball. In addition to Evans, the Boston Police Department (BPD) lost retiring head of the homicide squad Paul Farrahar, and several others on that team. Romney took office, quickly slashing youth services in the name of budget cuts, including not only tutoring, but mental-health services, drug-abuse treatment, summer jobs, and worker training. The BPD’s police budget was also drastically cut.
Sure enough, it all exploded in 2004 and hasn’t slowed since, despite an endless series of crime-fighting initiatives. Boston’s homicide rate (murders per 100,000 population) zoomed from under six a year in 1999-2000 — the 33rd highest among the 40 most populous US cities — to 12 a year in 2004-2005, moving Boston up to 17th place.
Anyone who thinks a few months of action — any action — can undo our demographic destiny is kidding him- or herself. We’re lucky such a huge percentage of these teens are, despite the odds, not interested in getting into trouble. But the ones who are not have a lot of shooting left in them before they move out of the high-violence age bracket — for starters, retaliation for all the unsolved shootings left over from 2005.
The scope of the BPD homicide unit’s failure in 2005 almost defies description. Of 74 official homicide investigations as of press time (discounting a murder-suicide that did not require investigation), they have made arrests in just 18, a pathetic 24 percent. The national average in large cities is over 60 percent.
The BPD has made an arrest in just one of 21 homicides in Roxbury. And in just two of 26 homicides of victims in their 20s.