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The Boston Globe


The DA's Misguided Move

September 26, 2007

By George L. Kelling

DISTRICT ATTORNEY Daniel Conley is making a mistake by reassigning the investigation of homicide cases on property in Boston owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and other state agencies to the Massachusetts State Police. His decisions threaten the safety of Boston residents as well as visitors.

I am not concerned with the DA’s motives. I assume he has the highest. I do not question the competence of the State Police. It is a fine police agency with a strong investigative capacity. Further, put aside the nightmare that will result in trying to sort out highway by highway, property by property, and trolley track by trolley track what constitutes being “on or near it” as the DA mandates.

The concern here is that the DA’s instructions belie the nature of homicides, the conduct of investigations, and the process of preventing future homicides.

For example: On March 18, 2005, Tacary Jones, 17, and five friends boarded an MBTA bus at Columbia Road and Geneva Avenue. Jones had ties to the Geneva/Everton gang. Ivan Hodge and O’Neil Francis, members of another gang that was feuding with Geneva/Everton, were on the bus. Spotting Jones, Hodge signaled Francis, who shot and killed him. Jones’s five friends and Hodge and Francis all fled.

Responding Boston police officers captured Hodge and Francis. Based on their familiarity with these gangs, homicide detectives and patrol officers quickly identified and located Jones’s five friends who became valuable witnesses.

In the trial, Boston police officers testified for over five hours about the feud between the two groups. Both the DA and defense attorneys indicated that this history was critical in convicting Hodge and Francis.

What is to be learned from this example?

First, most homicides result from problems that have a history and will have a future. Good investigations need a context. Local police were able to identify and locate Jones’s friends because they were familiar with Jones and his friends. They also knew where they hung out. Local police understand the history and context of homicides in ways that outsiders, regardless of their skill, cannot.

Second, the business of criminal investigators is not just to investigate the last homicide but to prevent the next. Individuals, families, and gangs are increasingly involved in spirals of violence. Bill insults Joe; Joe shoots and kills Bill; Bill’s fellow gang members retaliate by shooting, but failing to kill, Joe; Joe knows who shot him but won’t tell the police, intending to “settle” the matter himself. And on it goes. This is not an unusual scenerio.

The goal of an investigation goes beyond identifying Joe as the killer and preparing the case for prosecution. Investigations also try to understand escalating problems and take steps to prevent them. This involves integrating the work of homicide investigators, patrol, and special units (e.g., a gang and/or drug unit). In the Jones case, it is possible that Jones’s friends would have hunted down Hodge and Francis had Boston police not gotten to them first.

The district attorney’s current policy fragments criminal investigations in Boston: It isolates homicides that are serendipitously committed “on or near” the MBTA and other state agency properties from Boston’s overall crime problem as well as its homicide problem. It is a retreat from all that we have learned over the past several decades about homicides, their investigations, and their prevention.

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