City's Top Cop Looking Blue
BOSTON POLICE COMMISSIONER Ed Davis made his bones as a hard-charging cop. As a boss in Lowell’s vice and narcotics unit, he pushed for the stealth takedown of drug dealers and prostitutes by undercover officers. So you wouldn’t think he’d be the type to embrace ivory-tower theories over old-school policing when setting department strategy. But that’s exactly what he did when he rose to Lowell police superintendent, and exactly what he’s done since taking the helm in Boston in 2006, following almost without exception the "broken windows" method of community policing. The key word, as he leads his department into this perilous recessionary era, being almost.
"Broken windows" holds that putting uniformed officers in close contact
with the community—and having them deal with the smallest of issues—fosters a sense of well-being and trust in tough neighborhoods, thereby preventing crime. In March, Davis announced the rollout of a six-member "safe street" team for Uphams Corner. It’s the city’s 14th such team, and like the others is designed to ramp up police presence in a dangerous area. The strategy seems to be working: Boston has seen a roughly 10 percent annual decline in both shootings and overall crime during Davis’s tenure.
But with budget cuts squeezing police resources and demoralizing the troops, blanketing the city in blue is becoming an ever-trickier proposition. Especially considering that doing so requires pulling cops from other, more desirable posts and sticking them on patrols—something the rank and file tends not to like. ("Holding hands with gangbangers and singing ‘Kumbaya’ has never worked" is the way one miffed detective puts it.) Davis must walk the line, then, between adhering to his preferred crime-fighting strategy and keeping officers bought-in. At least once so far, that’s proved difficult.
The trouble started last fall, when Davis, pressured by community members and clergy to increase police visibility, dismantled plainclothes units across the city and ordered the officers into uniform. Plainclothes duty has long been seen as a mark of prestige, and many cops loathed the decision. "It breaks the spirit of the hard-chargers when they are making very good arrests out there in plainclothes, and then are told it’s more important to keep up appearances," says Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association president Tom Nee.
Frustrations came to a head at a January 22 command staff meeting. Captain Paul J. Russell stood up, turned to Davis, and declared that putting anticrime squads back into uniform had led to a drop in gun arrests in his Roxbury District B-2. Davis was furious. "If there is intentional pushback, I’m going to deal with it,” he barked, according to two BPD officials who attended the meeting.