Cease and desist

Operation Ceasefire brought peace to the streets, and then let it all slip away
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  February 3, 2010


The war over peace: A decade removed from the 'Boston Miracle,' violent crime once again has parts of the city under siege. Can the miracle makers usher in another period of peace without shooting themselves in the foot? By Chris Faraone.
In its five years from conception to unraveling, the Boston Gun Project's Operation Ceasefire became one of the most respected urban defensives in American history. Though primarily fronted by the BPD and its Harvard architects, the strategy is perceived to have worked on the strength of remarkable cooperation between various municipal forces and resources, from streetworkers and probation officers to ordinary citizens and ministers.

Starting on May 15, 1996, Boston gangbangers were addressed directly by detectives, who made no secret of heightened scrutiny and severe penalties for violent convictions. Those who committed crimes discovered that cops and prosecutors were serious; one youth was sentenced to 19 years for possessing one unfired bullet, while 23 members of Roxbury's notorious Intervale Posse were arrested in a single sweep. There were an unprecedented number of federal cases being made for such crimes, and authorities advertised that new reality with a massive press, poster, and literature campaign.

According to a US Department of Justice report analyzing Operation Ceasefire, the project helped downtrend monthly violent crime to the tune of: a 63 percent decrease in youth homicides; a 25 percent decrease in gun assaults; and a 44 percent decrease in the number of youth gun assaults in the highest-risk district, Roxbury. Those measures are impressive by any standards and earned many media and academic accolades. But now, the consensus among scholars, pols, and those in between is that Boston let a good thing slip away.

Though murder rates remained down through 2000 (when Operation Ceasefire officially ended), progress began to erode in 1998 as the city lost federal grants that increased BPD street presence. Following the September 11 attacks, even more funds were diverted away, this time to homeland security. Equally devastating were administrative quarrels within the ranks; soon after Kathleen O'Toole became police commissioner in early 2004, power struggles at BPD headquarters became a regular op-ed topic. By many accounts, anti-crime task forces led by rival department superintendents Paul Joyce and Robert Dunford stubbornly acted exclusively from one another.

Finally, in 2006, the storm erupted: non-fatal shootings doubled in the first three months; H-Block gang leader Jahmol Norfleet was murdered, threatening to unravel a hard-fought gang truce; Commissioner O'Toole's May departure from the BPD was followed by seven homicides in as many days.

Public disagreements also humiliated the TenPoint Coalition founding fathers, who disbanded in the early 2000s to form their own individual organizations. According to a 2008 Kennedy School report titled "Losing Faith? Police, Black Churches, and the Resurgence of Youth Violence in Boston": "Given the lessons learned from the 1990s, it seems like the City of Boston would have been well positioned to respond to this eerily-similar resurgence of gang violence in the 2000s. Unfortunately, it was not."

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  Topics: News Features , Paul Joyce, Harvard University, Crime,  More more >
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