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Boston's Operation Homefront Involves Police, Clergy in Helping At-Risk Youth

February 14, 2005


This program and others like it will be featured in the next issue of the Best Practices publication, Best Practices of Community Policing in Gang Intervention and Gang Violence Prevention, which is supported by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), U.S. Justice Department.
The Boston Police Department's Operation Homefront is a unique program that allows police officials and clergy to work proactively with recognized at-risk youth, beginning with visits to the family in their homes. Operation Homefront began in the spring of 1998 as a companion piece to the Crip, Blood and Folk initiative which addressed the issue of the importance of the family as the first line of defense in fighting gang activity amongst the city's youth.

Youth Violence Strike Force (YVSF) officers Israel and Singletary conceived this program through conversations at the Ella J. Baker House with Reverend Eugene Rivers, Reverend Raymond Hammond and Larry Mays. The clergy members expressed concern about the youth in their community. Out of these conversations came an agreement to jointly visit the homes of the most troubled juveniles.

Clergy from the Ella J. Baker House and Boston Ten Point Coalition began home visits with YVSF officers, at the homes of troubled youth across the city. Originally this was an unnamed grassroots effort. Soon, however, others became involved and official coordinators at the YVSF, School Police and Baker House (representing all clergy) were designated to begin coordinating visits. YVSF Officer Neva Grice, School Police Lieutenant Eric Weston, and the Baker House's Jeanette Boone were the original coordinators, and remain in these roles to this day. "Operation Homefront" was officially named in the fall of 1999.

In November 1999, Dorchester High School was experiencing unprecedented levels of violence and disorder. In order to address this issue, the YVSF made presentations at the school, and each student received an Operation Homefront visit. The Youth Service Providers Network (YSPN) (a program that provides licensed clinical social workers in police districts to work with youth referred by police), and the Youth Opportunity Center were brought in to follow up with youth after home visits. These two programs became important partners in the initiative, providing much needed services to the most at-risk youth. It was at this time that formal tracking and referral processes were added to the initiative, as well as the school focus.

The minister base for Operation Homefront has grown from two to over 25 active churches and religious organizations.

Operation Homefront is evaluated internally by police and clergy collecting information on youth served, home-visits and school presentations made, and anecdotally by success stories. The YVSF coordinator pays close attention to community response to the initiative, which is key to ensuring its continued success. In addition, for those cases referred to and serviced by YSPN social workers, individual and family information is kept in a confidential database, including risk assessment, service plan, services provided and outcome measures.

The agencies that have collaborated on this initiative are the Boston Police Department, Boston Public Schools, YSPN, and nearly 50 faith-based organizations. In addition, parents are integral to the project. The guiding principal behind Operation Homefront is that the family is the first line of defense against youth criminality/delinquency, gang activity and drug activity. Without parental involvement, the initiative would not work.

Lessons Learned

Participating YVSF officers and clergy have offered several lessons learned from Operation Homefront, particularly around issues of parental involvement and empowerment; and improving relationships between police and clergy, and police and the community. Several of these lessons follow:

    1. Many parents are genuinely unaware of what their children are involved in, both at school and in their neighborhoods—specifically regarding involvement with gangs, drugs and violence.

    2. Once empowered with information and resources, in most instances parents can and will police their own children.

    3. Joint homevisits by police and clergy build relationships with the community by putting a human face on an agency or institution.

    4. The process of home visits actually improves the communication skills of police and clergy, and enhances the ability of both to serve their communities.

    5. Working together creates an understanding and bond between clergy and police, with both becoming more understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities; which in the past may have been at odds.

    6. Working and brainstorming with clergy makes police more willing to reach out to the community.

It is important to understand that the heart of Operation Homefront is the police/clergy relationship. Schools provide the referrals, and YSPN social workers do some follow-up services, but it is the police/clergy combination that has been so successful in Boston.

Dozens of presentations on Operation Homefront have been given by YVSF in the last two years alone. Three years ago, a presentation was given to the World Churches of the Ten Point Coalition. This international symposium included churches from all over Europe, Africa and South America. Operation Homefront is being replicated locally, nationally and internationally.

Operation Homefront anticipates even more jurisdictions will replicate this program as a result of a March presentation at the First Annual Ten Point Leadership Foundation Conference held in March 2004. Forty-nine churches, representing 40 cities in 33 states, received this presentation.

In conclusion, the Operation Homefront model is very simple and straightforward - identify at-risk/high-risk students, visit their homes in order to provide a strong message to the youth while providing resources and empowerment to parents, and following up with services when necessary. However, its strength lies in the commitment of police, clergy, schools and YSPN social workers to make a difference in these young people's lives. That is the most important lesson other agencies can learn from this initiative, and it is the one necessary ingredient for any successful replication. Buy-in from all partner agencies is the key.

For more information contact Deputy Superintendent Paul Fitzgerald, Bureau of Investigation Services - Major Case Division, One Schroeder Plaza, Boston, MA 02120, Telephone: (617)343-5200, Fax: (617) 343-5737, E-mail: FitzgeraldP.bpd@boston.ci.ma.us.