Boston Police 2017

The Question

How can police officers and detectives in the Gang Unit have the most relevant and recent information before they respond to a specific incident?

The Team

  • Berkeley Brown
  • Daniel Goldberg
  • Francesca Ioffreda
  • Namita (Nami) Mody
  • Ihsaan Patel

The Story

The Boston Police Department Gang Unit's goal is “to reduce the criminal activity and anti-social behavior of youthful offenders and youth gangs through directed and community-based policing strategies.” The unit, also known as the Youth Violence Strike Force, must balance multiple goals, including developing an understanding of and respect from the community while simultaneously protecting the safety of the officers and the public.

None of us had experience seeing a police department's gang unit work before. So as part of our user research, we rode along with officers to learn more about the day-to-day activities of patrol officers. Through these ride-alongs and interviews, we uncovered several key insights:

  1. Location is key for effective policing.
  2. Tremendous value is placed on analytic reports in order to keep officers safe.
  3. Building relationships with community members is dependent on information sharing.
  4. There is a need for user-friendly databases.
  5. Entering a home is a high risk, low information environment.

Unfortunately, productive information sharing is accidental, not systematic. Right now, many youth participate in Operation Exit, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s flagship program to provide gang-affiliated youth pathways out of violent conflict by equipping them with the skills for successful careers in union trades, hotels, and even computer coding. After stopping an Operation Exit participant, police officers see only the participants long criminal record, and often have no idea that the person they stopped is trying to “do the right thing” and making progress to establish a better life. If the officers knew that their suspect was making real progress toward a better life, it may help to build trust and support the suspect’s life changes.

Our mandate is to help information flow more freely to aid the Boston Police Department. We believe that the relationship between Operation Exit staff and police officers is one place where increasing information flow could make a big difference. Even better, the problem can likely be addressed via simple but effective solutions, such as emails, posters, meet-ups, ID cards, and Google Docs.

Our recommendations for BPD fall into two categories: enforcement and prevention. For enforcement, we recommend that BPD consider establishing an online directory of available tools and help guides for common tasks, to help officers navigate the numerous tools they have at their disposal, not all of which are intuitive, or even well known. In terms of prevention, we recommend that BPD: increase awareness of Operation Exit among Gang Unit members, give police officers a stake in Operation Exit, and develop a clear point of view about how Operation Exit should factor into the outcome of discretionary stops.


final insights presentation

user insights presentation