Northeastern professor taking a ‘fresh look’ at state of gang activity in Boston

Anthony Braga has spent nearly 25 years of his career working with the Boston Police Department to examine crime, gangs, and efforts to reduce violence in the city. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Anthony Braga has spent nearly 25 years of his career working with the Boston Police Department to examine crime, gangs, and efforts to reduce violence in the city. Now, he is teaming up with the department again to study the current state of gang activity in Boston and the strategies being used to curtail gang-related crime.

Braga, a criminologist at Northeastern University, is leading a research project to identify the number of gang members in Boston, which neighborhoods they occupy, and the alliances and conflicts that have emerged between gangs in the city. He will use the data he collects to create computerized maps that show the prevalence of gangs in Boston’s neighborhoods. He will also analyze how effective police and community programs have been at reducing gang violence.

“It’s a terrific opportunity to take a fresh look at the nature of gang violence in Boston,” says Braga, a Distinguished Professor who directs the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern. “It’ll be very interesting to see how gang violence problems have evolved in the city, and how the Boston Police Department’s response to manage these gang violence problems has changed over time as well.”

The commonwealth of Massachusetts is funding the project with a $50,000 grant through a program, called the Shannon Community Safety Initiative, that focuses on reducing gang violence throughout the state. Through the program, the state provides cities with grants to help them address gang and youth violence problems in their communities. The state also provides grants to universities and other organizations to conduct research on gang violence in collaboration with cities.

The grant that Northeastern has received is part of $7.74 million in funding for the Shannon program this year. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and other state leaders announced this year’s grant awards on Monday at the Statehouse in Boston. Northeastern will work with the city of Boston, which received a grant of more than $1.5 million through the Shannon program.

“The Shannon initiative is a successful program that allows the commonwealth to partner with local communities and make a serious impact to prevent youth violence and gang activity,” Baker said.

Braga will work with a doctoral student, Keller Sheppard, on the research, which involves analyzing current data on crime statistics and gang activity, and interviewing Boston Police, community organizations, and gang members themselves.

Braga has worked extensively with Boston Police over the years to analyze and implement the police department’s efforts to reduce violent crime in the city. He has helped Boston Police launch programs to track crime patterns and trends, and to limit youth violence by steering gang members away from lives of crime.

He has also analyzed the use of body cameras by Boston Police, and found that they reduced the number of citizen complaints against police officers and the number of times officers used force to handle a situation.

Braga’s most recent research on gang violence in Boston focused on studying the ways in which gang members illegally buy, share, and dispose of guns. He found that the majority of these guns come from outside Massachusetts, and that gang members and drug dealers pay much higher prices to buy firearms off-the-books from private sellers than they would pay to purchase guns legally.

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