A Boston Public Safety Survey conducted by the city in fall 2006 — never released, but obtained this past week by the Phoenix through a public-information request — found that Boston residents held a less favorable opinion of the BPD, and were less confident in its ability to prevent and solve crime, than at any previous point in the 10-year history of the survey.

Sources speculate that the survey may explain why Menino went outside the department to select Davis (from Lowell) as the new commissioner, and why the mayor gave Davis unusual latitude to make changes.

Menino, however, tells the Phoenix that he doesn’t recall ever seeing the 2006 survey results, and, further, wasn’t even aware the survey had been conducted.

He also rejects the criticisms in the recent Kennedy School report. “We didn’t drop the ball, as a city,” says Menino. “Maybe academics dropped the ball, but we didn’t.” (One of those academics, the report’s lead author, is Anthony Braga, who was one of the original “Operation Ceasefire” architects and now works as a BPD consultant.)

Menino denies that a shift in focus and strategy since 2006 even took place; regardless, the Kennedy School researchers are not the only ones who have seen a significant change since Davis took over. The results have been slight but promising. Under Davis, arrest rates for homicides and shootings have risen, while the number of shooting incidents has declined. Community policing has been re-emphasized, most notably with a “Safe Streets” initiative that assigns officers to specific neighborhoods, where they can get to know people over time.

All of that should translate into better public-confidence numbers when the department conducts the survey again, later this year. “I am convinced that the numbers will improve,” Davis tells the Phoenix.

But to believe that all the bad feeling has vanished is to misread the depth of the distrust that comes through in the 2006 survey — and the extent to which the BPD did indeed fumble the ball for years leading up to Davis’s arrival.

Sinking feeling
The new Kennedy School report carefully avoids holding Menino responsible, even though it was the mayor, more than anyone else, who refused to acknowledge the city’s increasing violence.

Up through his re-election in November 2005, Menino contradicted anyone who stated what seemed obvious to those living or working in Boston: people here no longer felt safe. At the start of 2006 — after the city had officially set a 10-year homicide high — Menino openly scorned calls by the City Council, and even from O’Toole, for additional police officers.

Today, things have improved. However, the city once again seems to be over-hyping the small gains that have been made. “The trouble is that this administration showcases the stats that look good, and ignores the stats that show that violence has been a bigger problem,” says City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who is considering running against Menino for mayor in 2009. 

That refusal to hear bad news also extends to the BPD’s community-relations problem.

In fact, four years ago, the Phoenix reported that the 2003 results of the Boston Public Safety Survey revealed a big drop in the public’s confidence in police. Menino and O’Toole criticized the methodology of that survey, which the city had done every two years since 1997, and announced that they would no longer conduct it.

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