Boston College Chief of Police Bill Evans discussed the importance of research in his field of work in his keynote speech at the inaugural Woods College of Advancing Studies Research Conference on Saturday.
Evans recalled growing up as the youngest of six in South Boston. On his own at a young age after the death of his parents, he witnessed firsthand crime and violence on city streets, he said. Throughout adolescence, he navigated life under the guidance of a Catholic priest.
“There’s no such thing as a bad kid, there’s just kids who need a lifeline,” he said. “Let’s not lock these kids up, let’s lift them up.”
Prior to joining BCPD in August 2018, Evans served in the Boston Police Department (BPD) for 38 years—10 of them as commissioner.
“Research is so key to our job,” Evans said. “I used to go into work at 6:30 every morning and look at the numbers and statistics. I’d look at what happened throughout the city. We have the Boston Regional Intelligence that’s continually researching what’s going on around the country.”
BPD decides the distribution of its 2,200 officers through research, statistics, and trends, such as gang violence, he said. The Mattapan and Dorchester stations have about double the number of officers than smaller stations, according to Evans.
He said one of the main challenges and differences between 1982—when he entered the force—and today is that policing communities has become a more complex task.
“That’s made us work smarter and harder on building community relationships,” he said. “Boston, because of the relationships, we’ve been able to weather the storm, and that’s because of a lot of hard work on the ground.”
BPD makes an effort to engage positively with the community through Peace Day walks, Mother’s and Father’s Day walks, and handing out ice cream, Evans said. The NAACP announced that it will be bringing its convention to Boston, and Evans said he likes to credit that to the work done by BPD to overcome tough times in police-community relations.
There were 57 homicides in Boston during his last year on the job, and Evans said he witnessed how violence tore communities apart. Mostly inner-city children and young adults are involved in that violence, he said.
“What kept me awake at night was the senseless violence,” he said. “If we can give [young, inner-city people] something to live for, whether it be a job, a job opportunity, or getting into great schools, then they wouldn’t be pulling the trigger.”
Massachusetts has the strictest laws for owning and acquiring guns, as well as the lowest number of gun deaths in the United States.
Investigative research done by Anthony Braga, a criminologist at Northeastern, shows how guns are making their way into Massachusetts. Thirty-three percent of firearms recovered by the BPD were coming into the Baystate through the I-95 pipeline from southern states, including Florida, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina and into the hands of 18 to 25-year-olds, he said. In addition, 22 percent of firearms came from New Hampshire and Maine, and 20 percent were purchased in Massachusetts.
In response to Braga’s findings, Evans penned a letter to gun owners proposing that if they no longer want their guns, BPD will buy them back. For those who wished to keep their firearms, they offered a free lock to encourage safer storage.
Evans also touched on the topic of recreational marijuana and its potential to be a gateway drug, citing research he has read. The first dispensary in Greater Boston to offer recreational marijuana opened in Brighton last week, leading Evans to discuss the effects the drug can have on adolescent development and warning of the dispensary’s proximity to BC.
Evans shared his concerns that the thousands of 18 to 25-year-olds on BC’s campus are still maturing.
“I like to think the research I do helps shape policy,” Evans said. “But it also gets me out there knowing what I’m talking about.”
A few weeks ago, Evans invited several mental health professionals to educate BCPD officers after noticing that many students at BC struggle with their mental health, he said.
“We are not the old, military-style warrior police officers,” Evans said. “We’re the guardians. Even when I came [to BC,] one of the first things I stressed was that we’re ambassadors to the University first, before we are police officers.”
Evans prioritizes the safety of the BC students at all times, and his main goal as chief of police is that when the students arrive in August and leave in May, they go home with a great education and safely.
Featured Image by Celia Carbone / Heights Editor