Magazine article The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Boston's Operation Night Light: New Roles, New Rules

Magazine article The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

Boston's Operation Night Light: New Roles, New Rules

Article excerpt

In 1775, Paul Revere signaled the start of the American Revolution when he mounted his horse to embark on his famous night ride to alert the Massachusetts farmers about the invading British army. In 1992, a lesser-known night ride by two Massachusetts probation officers and two Boston police detectives signaled the beginning of a collaborative revolution in public safety and criminal justice practice in Boston. This collaborative effort, later known as Operation Night Light, teams probation and police officers to ensure that gang members and other high-risk offenders comply with the terms of their probation. This full and equal partnership helped Boston break down the conventional barriers between police and community correction agencies and embrace a new, unified mission: preventing the next victimization. The pioneers in the two agencies transformed one another's work. Police officers started practicing community corrections; probation officers began doing community crime control. Night Light served as a catalyst for getting all the relevant players onto the same field in order to better address youth violence.

The most ardent supporters of the program are the parents, grandparents, and guardians of the probationers. These adults fear for the lives and futures of their children and are grateful for the assistance. Numerous community stakeholders also have joined police and probation officers to help reduce the volume of crime committed by youthful probationers. Clergy members, youth outreach workers, social workers, alternative incarceration provider service workers, and school police officers have joined with traditional criminal justice agencies from inside and outside the city of Boston to form a stronger, more comprehensive crime control effort.

Initial Success

The power of a police and probation officer partnership was revealed a brief 15 minutes into that first ride-along in 1992. After receiving a call about a shooting in Dorchester, two police officers and two probation officers arrived to find a large number of youngsters standing around the prone body of a wounded, 15-year-old victim who later died. When the two police officers stepped out of the car, none of the onlookers left the scene. Many in the crowd knew the two decorated antigang officers and, although they took them very seriously, felt there was no crime in standing around at a shooting scene. The situation changed dramatically, however, when the two probation officers stepped out of the back seat. The crowd began to disperse immediately. The victim and several onlookers had been clients of one of the probation officers and they knew that being at the scene likely violated their probation. The crowd's sudden dispersal emphasized the probation officer's role in supervising and working with some of the most high-risk youths. It also illustrated that probationers see little peer stigma attached to leaving a street corner because a probation officer might be performing a curfew or area restriction check.

New Roles

In 1993, Night Light's primary police unit, the highly decorated, 40-member Youth Violence Strike Force (YVSF) was established to address youth and gang violence in the city. Operationally, the program is very simple. Four nights a week, teams of probation and police officers visit the homes of high-risk probationers. Officers in a number of Boston's police districts also visit with probation officers from their local district courts. Police officers work on overtime and regular shifts. Probation officers use flex time and compensation time to work on the program. The YVSF also includes personnel from a number of other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

District and superior court justices across the city support Night Light. They issue terms of probation, such as curfews and area restrictions, tailored to the profiles of individual offenders. This enables probation and police teams to monitor and restrict probationers' activities in ways that prevent future misdeeds. …

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