Photo by John Wicox
PEDAL TO THE METAL: Residents in the Orchard Gardens public housing complex credit the Safe Street Team of bikers, above, with helping to keep the neighborhood safe.
For the first time in 35 years, Rena Bobbitt, 68, feels comfortable being outside in her Orchard Gardens public housing complex.
"I was able to sit out here on the porch this summer," she said. "Things are better . . . because we see the bicycles."
Bobbitt is referring to the Boston police officers who patrol the complex nightly on bikes. The 17 cops comprise the area's Safe Street Team - and are credited with a nearly 40 percent drop in crime since they were deployed in August 2007. Car robberies are down from 41 to 13. Housebreaks are down by half to 8.
It was just over a year ago that Bobbitt's neighbor, Joyce Gomes, then 68, was grazed in the thigh by an indiscriminate hail of bullets - a mindless display of gang violence that typified the need for drastic action.
It turns out the bike cops - with their ability to ride up on kids doing drugs, get places that cruisers cannot and make constant contact with residents - were that drastic action. And they had able partners in the local crime watch, which began its own campaign.
"Even on my nights off, they call me," said Sgt. Joseph Horton, supervisor of the local Safe Street Team. "I don't mind it at all. This is not an eight-hour job."
Tenants began reporting the little things - the druggies who took up residence in a foreclosed building next door and the punk who kept pulling up freshly planted flowers. The area's trouble-makers were being identified by cops, and the word was out that they were watching.
Something else happened. Sgt. Bruce E. Smith Sr., a native of the Orchard Park projects, as the complex was called in its former life, was named as community policing supervisor in District B-2. He still had family in the area, and the residents trusted him.
On a recent afternoon, Smith and Horton gave the Herald a tour of the complex. They knew the names of almost every tenant we encountered. "How's the job going?" and "You're out and about earlier than usual today," were the familiar greetings they uttered.
"We need guys like you," Bobbitt told them. "We need 'em."
As Gov. Deval Patrick eyes $9 million in law enforcement cuts - including $870,000 in vital Hub community policing funds - the progress in Orchard Gardens is gravely threatened.
"If they be on the line," said Bobbitt of the cops, "we be on the line."
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