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On her watch

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The long, hot summer of Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole '76

O'Toole, with Mayor Menino (left), celebrates neighborhood watch groups on the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge. Photo by Lee Pellegrini

O'Toole, with Mayor Menino (left), celebrates neighborhood watch groups on the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge. Photo by Lee Pellegrini


By Anne Murphy

IT'S THE LAST day of June, the last day of school in Boston, and kids are already streaming onto the basketball court below the Police Commissioner's fourth-floor office in the city's Roxbury neighborhood, when Kathleen O'Toole '76 drops her half-eaten half sandwich (lunch isn't a scheduled event, anyway) to decamp for a press conference across town. Three teenagers have been killed in the previous 10 days, the youngest just 16 years old. In 20 minutes, at a leafy park in one of the city's crime-plagued neighborhoods, flanked by Mayor Thomas Menino and more than a dozen uniformed officers on horseback, motorcycle, and mountain bike, Commissioner O'Toole will announce her plan to prevent more violent deaths this summer. She aims to avoid a repeat of the summer before, her first in office, when 19 people—eight of them under the age of 21—were killed between the end of June and early September.

Community leaders who have staged marches and prayer vigils in the affected neighborhoods contend the push is past due. But police resources have been stretched thin, with the force down as many as 300 officers since 1999. Mandatory overtime is among the measures O'Toole will have to implement.

Before she disappears into a private elevator and then an unmarked black Explorer, the commissioner, in her trademark dark suit, string of pearls, and no-nonsense haircut, pauses at a photograph of Officer John O'Toole that hangs on her wall. The picture of her father-in-law, stoic in the dress grays of a 1930s-era Boston cop, recalls her roots in the department. A former patrol officer herself, she is also the granddaughter and wife of a cop. For now, however, the framed image doubles as a mirror, so that the first female commissioner of the Boston Police Department can hastily apply her lipstick.

The 37th commissioner of the oldest and 20th-largest police force in the nation, O'Toole serves a five-year term at the pleasure of the mayor. Menino appointed her last year, after two-term commissioner Paul Evans left to run a British government agency with countrywide policing oversight. Nationally, O'Toole is hardly the first woman to break the brass ceiling. In 2004, there were 200 female police chiefs. San Francisco, Detroit, and Milwaukee also named women as police chiefs that year. In Massachusetts, the Suffolk County sheriff's office and the state's department of corrections were already run by women.

"There is curiosity around the woman thing," O'Toole acknowledges. But mostly among the public and the media. Inside the department, "it's not an issue," she insists, giving the familiar question her customary short shrift.

As commissioner, O'Toole, 51, oversees Boston's 2,015 sworn officers and the department's 808 civilian personnel. The post is a civilian one, answerable only to the city's top elected official. With a foot in two realms, it reflects, in a sense, the kind of policing that has come to prevail since the early 1980s—a collaborative, consultative, and grassroots-oriented approach that emphasizes partnering with community groups and city agencies to prevent crime. During the elder-Bush and Clinton administrations, funding from the federal COPS program (Community Oriented Policing Services) primed police to serve as brokers in a network of community services, attending not just to crime but to the quality-of-life issues from which crime draws encouragement—poor lighting, sidewalk litter, broken windows. In the 1990s, under Commissioner William Bratton and then under Evans, Boston became a national model for this so-called community, or neighborhood, policing. O'Toole too is an ardent proponent. "Our job used to be to ride around in police cruisers and answer 911 calls," she recollects of her early days on the force. "We never talked to the community to find out what they really wanted from us." Now she will rely on an intensified community-policing approach to get the city through the long, hot summer.


O'TOOLE ENTERED the fishbowl that is the commissioner's job in February 2004, leaving, against the advice of friends, a consulting practice that paid three times as much (her salary this year: $160,000). "It was a decision of the heart, not the head," she says, flashing a smile and showing few signs, save the small circles under her eyes, of her 14-hour days. Her pale skin, strong jawline, and faintly Roman nose lend her a serious look. Her dark hair falls in a blunt cut. She'd make a decent marble bust, if her quick smile didn't regularly disturb the gravity of her face.

When she accepted the post, she knew at least some of what she was in for. Since September 11, 2001, the burden of funding local crime fighting had shifted dramatically, as federal dollars once dedicated to community policing were diverted to counterterrorism and emergency response. The COPS program, which had funneled more than $32 million to the Boston Police in the three years prior to 9/11, delivered only $12.6 million in the three years that followed. What's more, the city's contract with the patrolmen's union had expired two years before; negotiations remained stalled. And the week before O'Toole was sworn in, a riot near Northeastern University after a Patriots' Superbowl victory had left the son of a state trooper dead and the Boston Police accused of lax crowd control.

"You couldn't have scripted a more challenging first year for any police commissioner," says Superintendent Paul Joyce, a member of the command staff who lived through it with her. O'Toole's freshman year was marked by a wrongful-conviction scandal, stemming from incompetence in the department's fingerprint unit; the demands of the 2004 Democratic National Convention; and two victory parades, for the Red Sox and the Patriots (again), which drew hundreds of thousands of fans into the city. On October 20, 2004, the night the Red Sox defeated the Yankees to clinch the American League pennant, police fatally shot a 21-year-old Emerson College student who'd joined more than 10,000 revelers around Fenway Park. Televised images from a press conference of an ashen Commissioner O'Toole accepting "full responsibility" for the accidental death of Victoria Snelgrove were ingrained in the city's collective memory.

O'Toole's handling of the tragedy defined her tenure, in many observers' eyes. Immediately, she placed the officers involved on leave and opened two internal investigations and an independent, external one. An errant shot from a pepper-pellet gun had entered the left eye of Snelgrove, causing brain injuries from which she died the following day. That afternoon, O'Toole met Snelgrove's parents on the steps of their East Bridgewater home, before other family members and the media arrived. Her eyes well as she recalls the experience, but she declines to share details. "They were two grieving parents," she says.

Between meetings at Boston Police Headquarters in Roxbury. Photo by Lee Pellegrini

Between meetings at Boston Police Headquarters in Roxbury. Photo by Lee Pellegrini

She arranged a police motorcycle escort for their daughter's funeral, and the Snelgroves accepted a record $5.1 million settlement from the city; later the Snelgroves joined the city in a claim against the FN Herstal Corporation, manufacturer of the pellet gun. In August of this year, they told the Boston Globe they held O'Toole in "immense respect."

The independent commission was given rare access to police personnel, witnesses, records, and investigative data. O'Toole opened the department "without a hint of defensiveness," according to its chairman, Donald K. Stern, a former U.S. attorney. In May, the Stern Commission returned a critique of the department that cited a "failure of leadership and supervision," finding the officers involved to be poorly trained, poorly supervised, and in some cases uncertified to use the pepper-pellet guns. The officers had fired the weapons, which they believed to be nonlethal, "as though they were paintball guns," O'Toole said later.

"I'm not excusing some of the supervision and some of the decisions that took place that night," O'Toole says—she reassigned commanders and began implementing changes even before the Stern report was issued—but "it was a perfect storm."


THE OLDEST of three children, O'Toole "stepped into responsibility early," says her brother Dan Horton, a general manager for the ice cream manufacturer Dreyer's, in Michigan. Horton remembers his sister, who was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, as a tomboy, a ringleader, and head of the household when her parents were at work. "She always had a plan," he says. Their father was a schoolteacher, their mother an office administrator; both took joy in their work and taught their children to do the same. "My father went to work everyday with a smile on his face," recalls O'Toole. "He always said it was more important to love your work than make a lot of money."

In the 1970s, as a high school student in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and then as a political science major at Boston College, O'Toole planned to become a lawyer, a profession so male-dominated that her high school guidance counselor admonished her to consider something more "appropriate." Becoming a Boston police officer "wasn't even an option available until my freshman year in college," recalls O'Toole. Her grandfather had been one of the first motorcycle cops in the country; she'd admired him with no notion of following in his footsteps. When the Boston Police Academy opened its doors to women in 1972, O'Toole watched the television footage of the first women entering the academy and thought, "Why would any woman want to do a thing like that?"

O'Toole had a friend, however, who was eager to become a cop, so in her junior year at BC, she agreed to take the academy entrance exam with her. "I figured it would be good practice for the LSAT," O'Toole recalls, anticipating her law-school application. Upon graduation from BC, O'Toole enrolled in the New England School of Law, forgetting about the police force until she heard that candidates with scores lower than hers were being called up to the academy.

"There's nothing more obnoxious than a first-year law student," says O'Toole. "I decided to make the matter my first case." Her appeal before the Civil Service Commission went a little too well. A young African-American attorney named Wayne Budd, son of a Springfield cop and himself a graduate of Boston College (1963), heard her carefully argued claim and granted it, dictating a letter on the spot directing the Police Academy to enroll her in its next class. O'Toole joined the force in 1979.

"He really called my bluff," says O'Toole. But she probably wouldn't have found herself a uniformed officer breaking up fights at Mary Ann's, the watering hole she'd frequented as a student, if her father hadn't goaded her. "He always encouraged me to compete and told me I should go for it—I would see the law from another perspective, he said. Why not? What did I have to lose?" recounts O'Toole. "I wish I could say I was strategic about my choice of career, but I took the job on a dare." O'Toole meanwhile persevered with her law studies, passing the bar in 1982.

The willingness to take risks, and the confidence undergirding it, remained with her. O'Toole found the thrill of making arrests "addictive." She'd been "a hyper kid," she says—"I'm still no good sitting still"—and police work suited her. Yet she left the Boston Police after seven years, not having made lieutenant. She'd married Detective Dan O'Toole and given birth to a daughter, Meghan. She'd been laid off twice and overlooked for at least one promotion she'd wanted. She'd been party to a suit against then Commissioner Joseph Jordan to compel promotional exams that the department hadn't offered in years. Had O'Toole hit a wall in the BPD? She says no. She simply discovered another set of stairs.

"I was given an extraordinary opportunity at a very young age to prove myself," she recalls of her decision in 1986 to join William Bratton at the Metropolitan District Commission. Bratton, whom she'd known as a rising star at the BPD, had been tapped to turn around the scandal-ridden agency, which then policed the public parks. He would go on to become chief of the Boston, New York, and Los Angeles police departments. O'Toole became his deputy at the age of 32. The move was the first in a series that resulted in a hiatus from the BPD lasting the better part of two decades. "People always expected I'd be back," she says. "It just took 17 years to do it."

O'Toole, with Operation Rolling Thunder, in Egleston Square. Photo by Justin Knight

O'Toole, with Operation Rolling Thunder, in Egleston Square. Photo by Justin Knight

O'Toole moved from one law enforcement agency to another, and in and out of private industry, on a path that, if not entirely planned, was nevertheless canny. She took Bratton's place at the MDC in 1990, but left later that year to become a security executive at Digital Equipment Corporation, the now defunct computer manufacturer based in Maynard, Massachusetts. In 1992, when the MDC was absorbed into the state police, she joined the expanded force. O'Toole left the state police in 1994 as a lieutenant colonel, one of the first women to achieve the rank, in order to take the cabinet-level job of Secretary of Public Safety under then Governor William Weld. A change of administration led to a brief stint as executive director of the Boston College Alumni Association before O'Toole accepted an appointment to the Patten Commission in Northern Ireland. The commission, formed by the British government in 1998, was charged with remaking the paramilitary Royal Ulster Constabulary for the civil democratic society envisioned by the Good Friday accords. In hearings throughout Ulster, its members collected testimony from victims of police brutality and sectarian violence, both Catholic and Protestant, and within the year issued a blueprint for police reform. When the commission's work was done, O'Toole launched her own consulting firm in 2000, specializing in community policing and law enforcement training.

"Hers is not a traditional, up-through-the-ranks path to the top," observes Dorothy Moses Schulz, a professor of criminology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and author of Breaking the Brass Ceiling: Women Police Chiefs and Their Paths to the Top (2004). "She's an insider-outsider, an outsider-insider, who did a lot of different things and parlayed her experience into ever higher posts." What O'Toole did consistently was work compulsively and impress powerful mentors: Bratton (now Los Angeles chief of police); Weld (now a possible candidate for governor of New York); and Menino, a three-term mayor.

When Paul Evans decided to depart in 2003, and her old friend Menino went shopping for a new police commissioner, O'Toole initially demurred, because she was happy doing what she was doing—both the money and the golf were good. But the opportunity to be a trailblazer proved too tempting. "To be the first woman commissioner, and return to the place where she'd started—those were powerful pulls," says friend Jack Joyce '61.

According to Wayne Budd, who'd practically propelled her into the Police Academy and who, as a former U.S. attorney, chaired the committee that recommended her as commissioner 25 years later, O'Toole's credentials were impressive enough, but it was her passion—for the Boston Police and for community policing—that inspired the committee's choice. "She called it her dream job," says Budd.


RIDING DOWN Blue Hill Avenue through a poor section of Mattapan on a hot August afternoon, Kathleen O'Toole recalls patrolling the area's streets at the dawn of the community-policing movement, in the 1980s. Before the proliferation of guns and gangs, "We'd solve the neighborhood's problems over fried chicken in Dorothy Selman's kitchen," says O'Toole. Selman was a grandmother and community activist. Recently, not far from Selman's house, two young men had been murdered, one while visiting a street memorial to the other. As in the majority of homicide cases this year, the perpetrators were still at large.

"Community policing was always about breaking down barriers between police and citizens in the community," says O'Toole as her motorcade pulls up to a crowd gathering on the lawn of Mattapan State Hospital. She's about to launch into a well-practiced spiel: Prevention, intervention, enforcement (in that order) are the trinity of community policing. It's almost impossible to be in her company for 10 minutes without hearing them invoked. They've become a mantra, as well, of her command staff.

The stop in Mattapan, like others previously in Brighton, South Boston, and the South End, is part of a tour to encourage neighborhood crime-watch groups, which have become an ever bigger component of community-policing strategy in lean fiscal times. Criminal intimidation of witnesses continues to frustrate law enforcement. Even victims who know their assailants will refuse to identify them. "But there's safety in numbers," says O'Toole. By shining a light on local crime watchers, she hopes to bolster their ranks.

"These groups are our eyes and ears on the ground," she says, and emphasizing their intelligence role is a strategic decision on O'Toole's part. Earlier this year, she announced plans to use federal homeland-security grant money to develop, train, and support more local neighborhood watch groups—a creative stroke, in the view of many. If that's also a backdoor way to fund community policing, O'Toole isn't telling. "It's my job to leverage all the resources I can," she says. "It won't be some federal agent who spots the next potential terrorist. It will be someone who lives and works in the City of Boston and reports something suspicious."

To the 100 or so people gathered on the lawn in Mattapan, O'Toole says, "This is a partnership. . . . We can't have a cop on every corner. We can't do it alone." Throughout the summer, she will steadily try to ameliorate residents' fears of being labeled "snitch." She'll do it with her own reassuring presence in the neighborhoods and with mobile police command centers in a new operation called Rolling Thunder.


O'TOOLE LAUNCHED Rolling Thunder on May 28 as a way to boost police presence in the city's hotspots despite the force's reduced numbers. Now, several nights a week, a cavalcade of officers on foot, motorcycle, horseback, and mountain bike descends unannounced on one or another targeted street corner. Often O'Toole goes along.

One sweltering evening in July, two hours before dusk, officers assemble for roll call in the parking lot of the Star Fish Market in Jamaica Plain's Egleston Square. Deputy Superintendent Darrin Greeley, in charge of the operation, hands out neighborhood maps pinpointing recent crimes and arrests for the teams that will sweep through troubled blocks and area parks. There are 12 mountain bikes, six motorcycles, and a half-dozen cruisers parked by a Winnebago fitted with communication and computer equipment.

Two recent execution-style murders and a spate of armed robberies have left the neighborhood and its revitalized business district on edge. "It's not a bad neighborhood," says Greeley. "But the community feels that crime has been increasing lately, so we're here."

Managing citizens' perception of crime is a key facet of community policing and a priority for O'Toole. She has told her commanders she will judge them by how well they reduce not only crime but the fear of crime.

"We are here to make people feel safe," says Lt. John Danilecki, a Gatorade in one hand, the handlebar of his mountain bike in the other. "When people feel safe, they go to work, they go to local shops, they sit out on their stoops, they see things."

O'Toole strolls down Washington Street, ensuring that the operation will get press and setting the tone. She dismisses criticism that the officers' presence there is a commando display and hollow. Operation Rolling Thunder is "not a show of force in minority neighborhoods," she tells reporters, exercising a knack for the redirect. "It's a show of support for people who want to live in peace."

In sunglasses, jeans, and a polo shirt, she's still recognized and stopped by passersby. She pays a visit to Mario Melendez, owner of the 4M Market. He supports the use of what O'Toole calls soft force. "Being tough all the time—it's not going to work," Melendez advises. "Sometimes you've got to be sweet to get the goodies."


FOR ALL her adroitness at managing perceptions, O'Toole is as transparent a commissioner as the City of Boston has seen. "Police work can tend to be insular. There can be a bunker mentality," says Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley. "But this commissioner has really opened up the department. . . . The days of the thin blue line are over." When the department's fingerprint unit was implicated in 2004 in several wrongful convictions, for instance, O'Toole shut it down, reorganized it, and publicly apologized to freed prisoners. In May 2005, when the Stern Commission issued its critical report on the department's failings in Victoria Snelgrove's death, O'Toole posted the report on the department's website, where it can still be found.

"You have to go where the truth leads you," says O'Toole, who wants to revive a civilian-police review board that lapsed in the late 1990s, a move that the Stern Commission also endorsed. "We may take some hits by opening ourselves to scrutiny, but we keep our credibility, our integrity."

O'Toole with Rachel Hutchinson, deputy superintendent and chief of staff. Photo by Lee Pellegrini

O'Toole with Rachel Hutchinson, deputy superintendent and chief of staff. Photo by Lee Pellegrini

Credibility is the linchpin of community policing, in O'Toole's view. And her heavy schedule of community-group meetings and unannounced neighborhood visits contributes to her credibility on the streets. "She's indefatigable," says Jack Greene, the dean of Northeastern University's College of Criminal Justice. "I know a lot of chiefs in cities across this country who are oriented to be out in their communities, but no one approaches it with the vigor that Kathy O'Toole brings to it." Residents have broken into applause on nights when she and Operation Rolling Thunder showed up in their neighborhoods.

Despite O'Toole's insistence that gender does not affect her interactions with command staff or rank-and-file officers—as former commissioner Bratton says, "she's one of the guys"—she has a striking rapport with women in the city's troubled neighborhoods. Again and again, they approach her on hot urban streets to meet her, to thank her, to confide some worry or loss. On Mora Street in Dorchester, one night, a mother whose son's murder six years earlier has not been solved wanted to touch her hand and thank her for coming. Another woman wanted to talk about her own battle with drug addiction and her interest in helping spare other young people. "She's always had a way of putting people at ease, of not intimidating them," says Bratton. Her daughter, a BC student, says, "She makes people feel safe." On the streets of Boston, O'Toole seems more a protectress than an enforcer.

"Most people have no idea of the challenges the people in these neighborhoods face, the kind of intensity that's out there," says O'Toole, returning to an unmarked Crown Victoria after her walk down Mora Street. "Don't get me wrong, it's really exciting making an arrest," she says, though as a civilian she is no longer armed. "But really being there to comfort people in difficult circumstances, to be of some service, that's the most rewarding part of the job."

Not everyone in law enforcement circles shares O'Toole's penchant for alliance building. Community partnerships require a kind of power sharing and political finesse that, according to Northeastern's Greene, are not always welcome or evident in the upper echelons of police management. When police must take care not to undermine or upstage community leaders' efforts to quell violence, it often means crafting a united front out of conflicting institutional styles.

On July 31, Reverend Bruce Wall, pastor of Global Ministries Christian Church in Codman Square, and other community leaders occupied Lyndhurst Street on a block of Dorchester that the Boston Globe labeled "The Hell Zone." They rented an apartment and began dusk-to-dawn community patrols in a campaign to clean up the neighborhood, which residents complained was beset by flagrant drug dealing, prostitution, and violence. A man had been shot to death there on the 4th of July. Having courted the aid of local ministers like Wall, O'Toole's department had to give him room to conduct his late-night prayer circles in the street, but also assure his safety. One evening, Wall was threatened by residents of a neighboring street who wanted to keep him off their block. The minister decided to go anyway and O'Toole decided to dispense with her schedule and go with him.

Hopping out of an unmarked car alone, she practically sprints down a litter-strewn block of triple-deckers to catch up to him. Is she ever afraid in neighborhoods like this? "Nah," she answers. "I'm probably too cavalier about this stuff," she adds, hastening to greet Wall with a kiss on the cheek. She considers the minister a friend, as she does most well-known personalities in Boston.

As she walks behind Wall's entourage, bookended by Nation of Islam members wearing red "Stop the Killing" shirts, she is deferential, and the evening passes peacefully. Her manner is not uncharacteristic. She doesn't steal spotlights. But it's in contrast to her tone at a meeting earlier that day at headquarters. After a briefing in which she'd heard the unwelcome news that shootings in July were up from the year before, she took full charge of a discussion with command staff. O'Toole is not reluctant to use power when it serves, but she has a keen sense of when it won't. Her political judgment is sound and, according to many, she has political gifts that could, if she were inclined, make her a viable candidate for elected office. "I'm not interested in partisan politics," says O'Toole, chopping her hand through the air. "No way."

It's clear that night in Dorchester, however, that she knows how to play a delicate situation. And she's adept at keeping her partnerships intact. While Raymond Kelly, chief of the New York Police, has openly criticized federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies, O'Toole has cultivated an unusually close rapport, sparking speculation that she'll be off to Washington next. Her current post is "no stepping-stone," she says. But none of her previous positions were, either.

"I have a responsibility to get the round pegs in the round holes," says O'Toole, seated at a table in the ordered confines of her office at headquarters. The large, wood-paneled room is decorated with framed press clippings, photographs, and the plaques of police organizations from around the world. A chessboard of pewter cops and robbers sits unused beneath a picture of O'Toole as a young uniformed officer hugging her cherubic toddler. As if to illustrate her penchant for having everything in its proper place, she rights a Waterford shamrock that, she says, a mischievous staffer has turned askew on her desk. A prank on a neatnik boss.

In the spring of this year, responding to the findings of the Stern Commission, O'Toole reshuffled her staff, relieving two long-time senior commanders, who were popular among the rank and file, of their posts. One was a colleague she'd known for 25 years. Her new superintendent in charge of field operations would be a "stickler for detail," she said. The veteran she tapped for the post, Robert Dunford, had also been a candidate for her job; under her leadership, he ran the Democratic Convention operation that resulted in only six arrests and no injuries (though civil libertarians protested the stringent security). "It's unusual for chiefs to place key competitors in high-level positions," observes John Jay College's Schulz. According to Schulz, O'Toole typifies the new bias in law enforcement toward chiefs who are professional managers, a perception O'Toole ratifies.

"I came into the police business when a paradigm shift had begun," says O'Toole. "It had been all top-down, very autocratic. Paramilitary, really. The approach today is far more participatory. I believe we only see the true potential of the people in an organization when they are inspired and they truly buy in."

This accounts for the license to innovate that O'Toole allows her top managers, and for the decentralized command structure she's put in place to promote her model of community policing. Captains are allowed to operate like chiefs of their districts, staff say. The organization chart is more like a web of "shared responsibility," according to Dunford, than a chain of titles, and O'Toole "more like a Lee Iacocca than a commander-in-chief. . . . She sets the direction and sells the image of the company."

Of course, distributing power may have been necessitated by O'Toole's long absence from the department. "Being away for all those years, she may have lost some of the pulse of the department, the ebb and flow of what's happening," says Dunford. "She needed to find people she could trust to get the job done without having to constantly look over their shoulders."

But O'Toole has also attended directly to the concerns of lower-level uniformed and civilian personnel. When she first arrived, in an echo of her earlier work in Northern Ireland, she formed commissions to hear patrol officers and supervisors on a range of issues, from broken air conditioners to overtime. "I just left my rank at the door and asked people, 'What's on your mind?'" she says. Her efforts to square "the little things" have lifted morale, according to Deputy Superintendent Greeley, and smoothed relations with the unions. Police contracts are due for renegotiation in 2006.


"A POLICE commissioner's job is tougher today," says Mayor Menino, which may explain why a big-city police chief's tenure is often short—rarely longer than three years, according to Schulz's research.

"You've got responsibilities for homeland security. They weren't there five years ago," he observes. "You've got rising youth violence. The easy availability of handguns. The instability of families. New immigrant populations. Language barriers. Limited resources for dealing with all of it. Doing the job well is not just about being hard on crime."

And yet crime statistics matter, especially homicides, and especially in an election year. Even if murder is rarely a random act, and the victim and perpetrator usually know each other, "Homicide is definitely the barometer of public safety," says O'Toole. Merely the fear of it draws law-abiding citizens off the streets, ceding them, in effect, to criminals.

From June 30 to Labor Day, 2005, Boston suffered 17 homicides—only two fewer than the same period the previous year. Six were under the age of 21, but none were under 19.

"It didn't seem nearly as crazy as last summer," reflects O'Toole, a day after the city's schools reopened. Though shootings were up, not one of the city's 80,000 public-school students was murdered over the summer.

As quick as she's been to take "full responsibility" when things go wrong, O'Toole is reluctant to take full credit when things appear to go at least modestly right. She's got a long list of "partners" to acknowledge first. She ticks them off: Superintendent Paul Joyce's Operation Homefront, which identified 800 youths who might be potential victims or perpetrators of street violence over the summer. Deputy Superintendent Darrin Greeley's Operation Rolling Thunder, with its "soft force" in vulnerable neighborhoods. Gang-unit and school-police officers who redoubled their efforts to remove illegal firearms from the streets. Ministers who signed on to reclaim crime-ridden neighborhoods block by block, house by house. Neighborhood crime-watch groups that multiplied the eyes and ears of police. A mayor and city agencies funding midnight basketball, extending community-center hours, and beefing up summer-job and camp programs to keep kids busy and out of harm's way.

"No one person, no one agency gets the job done," O'Toole says. "It's all about partnership. This is how we do business in Boston."

 

Anne Murphy is a writer based in the Boston area.

 


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