Crime decreases; student population increases in Mission Hill over the past decade
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"When I first started here, the area was so bad, that we had patrolling guard dogs. Now, the crime has gone down so much, and the neighborhood has become a better place," said Dave Welch, a 30-year resident of Mission Hill, member of the Mission Hill Crime Committee, and head of security for the New England Baptist Hospital, located on top of the neighborhood known as Mission Hill.
Mission Hill is located in Roxbury, a part of Boston, and has been known in the past to have a bad reputation of being a tough area of crime and poverty. Many residents believe that the neighborhood's name was tainted after the murder of Carol Stuart in 1989. Her husband was found as the killer, but the media attention of the homicide brought negative connotations to the neighborhood, according to Mary Todd, a member of the Mission Hill Crime Committee and life long resident of Boston.
"The Stuart murder a while back made the city focus on Mission Hill as an area that was overridden with crime, but they came from somewhere else to here. They weren't from here," says Todd.
All crime in the neighborhood of Mission Hill has decreased over the past decade according to the analysis of 10 years worth of crime statistic reports from the Boston Police Department. The entire city is divided into 12 districts, and Mission Hill is part District B-2. Also included in District B-2 are parts of Fenway and parts of Roxbury.
"Mission Hill is part of District B-2, the statistics are representative of that area, as well as others in the Fenway and parts of Roxbury. You can't use the data as strictly representative of Mission Hill, but it gives you a good reference," said Detective Barbara Bowie.
Both property crime, and violent crime, which this article is focused on, has decreased in District B-2, of which Mission Hill is a part of, by 40% over the past decade. The greatest decline was in aggravated assault, a 67% change from 1993 through 2002.
"Six or seven years ago, it was kind of bad," said Abi Panicker, a bartender at Pat Flanagan's, located at the foot of Mission Hill.
"The biggest fight I have ever seen here was about two years ago. There were 30 people that spilled outside and across the T tracks.
No one really got hurt, a couple black eyes, that's it though," Panicker said.
"Now we have a detail cop in here on the weekend nights, it stops people from trying things, and if we ask people to leave, they don't put up as much of a fight," Panicker said.
Increasing police presence in the neighborhood has been a common theme over the past decade. The residents of Mission Hill called upon police to have larger visibility on the streets when 10-year-old Shauntee White was shot by a 20-year-old male resident of Mission Hill in the legs and chest while playing at a Mission Hill playground near Tremont Street at 4:30 in the afternoon in the spring of 1995, a time when violent crime involving firearms was nearly the highest it has been over the past decade. Residents wanted to become more involved in turning their neighborhood into a safe place, and called for more youth and violence protection programs as well as police presence in the neighborhood. Police responded by calling on the community to turn in known criminals.
Since 1995 violent crime involving a firearm has decreased drastically, with the largest drop from 1996 to 1997 where the number of crimes reported fell from 429 to 285. Over the past decade there crime statistics show that violent crime involving a firearm has dropped by 61% since 1993 to the present.
"I don't see people coming in here with weapons, but yah, I'm sure it's there," said Panicker, the bartender at Pat Flanagan's. "I mean, it's not like they're flashing it around, but I know it's there and concealed," he added.
Homicide in District B-2 has risen and then fallen over the past decade. Murder in Mission Hill was at an all time low in 1997 when only 7 murders occurred in District B-2. However, at the start of the decade, in 1993, the district recorded 14 murders, and last year, recorded 13. Currently this year, District B-2 has recorded 5 homicides from January to July, according to the most up to date statistics available from the Boston Police Department's web site.
"We don't have the statistics for all of 2003 yet, and I can't predict what the homicides rates will be this year, but the first half of the year has recorded fewer homicides than the first half of last year," said Officer Bowie.
According to the Boston Police Department's website, district B-2 implemented several programs to deter crime in the Mission Hill area. Among the three largest, the Community-Based Juvenile Justice Project (CBJJ) helped in the initiative to place police in Madison Park Technical Vocational High School and the Timilty, Wheatley, and Dearborn Middle Schools to, "make at-risk youths aware of the regulatory adult presence that is available to help them on a daily basis," according to the website.
"This program has been helpful to foster relationships between the youths of the community and the figures of authority. It has had a good response from both the police who participate and the schools," said Officer Bowie.
The district also increased bicycle patrols recently in Mission Hill and Longwood Medical area with the help of private donations from Longwood Security, Uphams Corner, and Main Street, local merchants, and others.
Many long term residents mark the turning of the neighborhood with the destruction and rebuilding of Mission Main, a housing project with 39 barrack style buildings and 1,000 units. The revamping of this area was made possible by an initiative in Congress, the Department of Housing/Urban Development, under the consent of former President Bill Clinton. The initiative was called HOPE VI and it sank $4 billion into rebuilding the public housing formerly known as Mission Main, located at the base of Roxbury's Mission Hill neighborhood. Today, the public housing consists of 535 individual units and the Mission Hill Tenant Task force vows to keep them safe, affordable, and a place where community can foster.
One of the largest issues Mission Hill residents face today is the use and sale of illicit drugs that occurs in the neighborhood regularly. Members of the Mission Hill Crime Committee, one of several neighborhood action groups, have worked to get a bank of phones located on the side of the Mission Hill Branch of the Boston Public Library removed, where it is known by residents that drug deals are set up and made.
"The phones were used for drug deals back and forth," said Todd, a member of the Mission Hill Crime Committee. "They were going to be removed, but ultimately it was decided to leave them to benefit the people who would actually need them for legitimate reasons," Todd said.
The Mission Hill Crime Committee has a large presence in the neighborhood, especially recently with the local colleges becoming more involved. They are not an actual crime watch group, according to Welch.
"It is a one stop place for everyone to vent, and discuss what is going on," said Welch.
"We have a good response from Boston Police, the Superintendent of Police in our district, the judges, the District Attorney, the Head of Drug Control, and Boston EMT's. They've all come to our meetings. The Public Affairs people from all the schools in the area attend regularly now too. We've made a real effort to integrate students into the area," said Mary Todd.
The Crime Committee meets the last Thursday of every month in the music room in the Mission Hill Church, and lately the topic has revolved quite a bit about the rising student population in the neighborhood.
"The student's have generated a negative situation from many of the local residents. It's a quality of life issue," said Dave Welch. "Some Fridays and Saturdays it's a zoo on the streets. Residents are complaining of noise issues when the college students throw all night parties on the weekends," Welch added.
Not all residents have negative feelings towards the students whom are slowly taking over the neighborhood.
"They [college students] are good to have here," said Todd. "I think they act as a deterrent in some ways, because they are out walking on the streets," she said.
The Crime Committee has helped the local schools to start a '1, 2, 3 Program' where the colleges have funded a roving special duty officer in the neighborhood.
"Northeastern has really taken the lead," said Welch. "I believe that they have begun to take issues with students who live off campus that get in trouble with the police," he added.
Welch believes that many of the issues the community has with students is a result of absentee owners.
"The owners don't take responsibility for the tenants, a lot of 3-decker houses are being sold now because of that," said Welch.
Many of the issues that surround the student population in Mission Hill are about quality of life issues or property crimes, and are not relevant to violent crime in the area.
"I don't think there is a connection between the students and crime rates. But I do think that sometimes they are the bait," said Welch.
"The students bring us to Mission Hill, mostly because of the noise complaints, the parties, and sometimes a robbery," said Officer Bowie.
Mike, a 24-year-old Wentworth graduate lived in Mission Hill for 3 years while attending Wentworth had a different experience when he lived in the neighborhood.
"I've seen some bad things in Mission Hill. One time, a bunch of neighborhood kids crashed my friend's party, and I don't know why they were so angry, but they starting yelling, 'This isn't gonna happen on our streets' and they ended up stabbing two of my friends, one in the leg and one in the stomach," Mike said.
"I think that they think they can do whatever they want," he added.
"But now there doesn't seem to be as much tension between the locals and the students. I hang out here [Pat Flanagan's] a lot, and there are always different kinds of people here," Mike said.
Mike believes the area has changed quite a bit since he moved out just two years ago.
The bartender, Abi Panicker, agrees.
"It used to be mostly college kids that came to the bar, but now it is a good mix," Panicker said.
Panicker believes that all the effort to beautify the neighborhood and bring in more businesses has helped the area drastically.
"There is still a ways to go, but I feel safe here, I've never really felt threatened," said Panicker.
Dave Welch, the head of security at the New England Baptist Hospital, believes that more police foot patrol is direction the neighborhood should take.
"Police visibility is a deterrent, even when I'm driving in my Baptist security vehicle, I believe that people see it and know that I am an authority and directly connected with the police," Welch said. "I don't know if they can do more foot patrol, there are always budget issues," he added.
Mission Hill has shown drastic improvements over the past decade, both aesthetically, and in quality of life. The crime statistics have proven a drop in all violent crime since, 1993, and many of the residents and community activists believe that the neighborhood has come a long way.
"It is always changing. Right now we have a lot of students coming in, but there is always a cycle and the community will continue to improve as it always has," said Todd.