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Q&A: DA Conley Talks About Guns, Drugs, and West Roxbury

DA Conley: Massachusetts has some very strong and sensible gun legislation, but the great majority of gun crimes here are committed with firearms from states with looser laws.

 

Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley was first elected DA in 2002. He was previously an assistant district attorney for the office and a Boston City Councilor. He answered some questions from Patch.

Patch: You've done a lot of work on anti-bullying, did you ever think anti-bullying would be a focus of the DA's office? How was bullying treated when you were growing up?

Conley: Children and teens should be able to learn and grow without fear of bullying, harassment, threats, or violence. It is easy to claim that bullying is a rite of passage for youngsters, but we know that’s just not true. We understand the harm that bullying can cause. The very nature of bullying has changed since I was young. Victims once had an escape when they went home, but now, with social media, cell phones, and text messaging, bullies have access to their victims 24/7.  The law has long protected adults from this type of abuse, and it is only right that our children should be afforded that same protection.

Patch: A lot of bullying happens online, as well as other crimes, how has online crime changed your job through the years?

Conley: Technology has in some ways made fighting crime more difficult. In addition to cyber bullying, kids may be connecting with strangers online and placing themselves at risk for emotional harm or much worse. The best tool for fighting this type of crime is education. My office offers CyberPeace training for students, parents, and professionals in order to equip each group with the knowledge needed to keep kids from becoming victims of online bullies and predators.

Patch: One of your main focuses is combatting gun violence in Suffolk County - what would you say are the roots of gun violence? Is it drugs, gangs, etc.?

Conley: The primary root of gun violence is easy access to illegal firearms by the people least qualified to possess them. They’re in the hands of violent, often impulsive offenders who either don’t understand or don’t care about the deadly consequences of using them. Many of our fatal and non-fatal shootings are gang-related and retaliatory in nature, meaning that they’re committed to perpetuate a feud or rivalry. We also talk about the nexus of guns and drugs: Guns are the weapon of choice used to protect drugs and drug profits from rivals, or to eliminate those rivals altogether. With every gun taken off the street, you can be certain that a violent crime has been prevented. 

Patch: What would you like to see when it comes to stopping gun violence? 

Conley: Massachusetts has some very strong and sensible gun legislation, but the great majority of gun crimes here are committed with firearms from states with looser laws. We need federal legislation to close the loopholes that allow guns to be bought so quickly and easily in other states and then used on the streets of Boston. And we can do it without ever infringing on the rights of lawful gun owners: We do it every day here in Suffolk County, where 100% of our enforcement efforts are directed against people who carry, possess, and use firearms illegally.

And also on the local level, we undertake a lot of work focused on prevention and education, which is key to curbing gun violence and other crime. I recently hosted the 5th annual Basketball for Peace Tournament, which is just one of the opportunities we offer for kids to have positive interaction with law enforcement and prosecutors. There are so many negative influences and chances for these kids to turn to violence, and it’s important to show them that there are better choices they can make and that there are people in the community who are committed to helping them succeed.

Patch: How often do you speak or meet with other Massachusetts district attorneys, and how does that help you in your job?

Conley: The Massachusetts District Attorney’s Association meets regularly, and I often exchange calls and emails with my counterparts across the state. By sharing information and discussing initiatives that have been successful elsewhere, I have had the benefit of the shared experience of all of the state’s district attorneys. In the past few years, I’ve worked very closely with Attorney General (Martha) Coakley, as well, to shape and submit the landmark human trafficking and “safe harbor” laws that protect the child victims of commercial sexual exploitation. And I communicate directly with the leadership of our police partners in Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop, not to mention State and Transit Police, to see how police and prosecutors can work more closely day to day.

Patch: You live in West Roxbury, a place where a lot of state and city employees reside, why do you think that is? 

Conley: West Roxbury has a great sense of community that I think draws a lot of people. It’s a thriving neighborhood, a great place for families, and it’s not far from where I grew up in Hyde Park. I have friends and family all over the city, though, and I’m constantly amazed at the broad range of people, businesses, restaurants, architecture, and individual stories that are so vibrantly alive in the neighborhoods of Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop.

Patch: What was your scariest moment as the District Attorney?

Conley: Fortunately, I can’t recall a moment that I would define as scary, but there are many times when I’m apprehensive and concerned about the safety and well-being of our prosecutors. People sometimes forget that the job of a prosecutor is not without risks, but we still remember very clearly the murder of Paul McLaughlin, an assistant attorney general assigned to the Suffolk DA’s Gang Unit, at the hands of a defendant he was prosecuting in 1995. The murder of Mark Hasse, a prosecutor in Texas, is just another reminder of the threats our assistant DAs face.

Patch: What was your happiest moment as the District Attorney?

Conley: Several weeks back, I was at a community event in Mattapan where a woman recognized me. We had a brief conversation and, before we parted ways, she leaned in and whispered, “You’re doing a great job.” She was speaking to me, but I think she was speaking as much about the men and women who work in my office. The prosecutors, victim advocates, and others who serve the people of Boston and Suffolk County give their job 110%, and I know they sacrifice a lot to do it. Whenever I hear praise like this, I know it comes from a good experience between a member of the public and a member of the office, and that makes me very, very happy.

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