Mayor Marty Walsh and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross talk with South End residents at a National Night Out block party. (Kim Tunnicliffe/WBZ NewsRadio)
BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Mayor Marty Walsh and Boston Police Commissioner William Gross are responding to criticism that officers have been heavy handed in their ongoing efforts to clean up he city's so-called "Methadone Mile."
The police action, known as "Operation Clean Sweep," came in response to an attack on a Suffolk County corrections officer one week ago.
After that video made the rounds, public outcry over increased violence and rampant drug use in the area led to a heavy police presence and dozens of arrests.
During the sweep operation, though, a photo went viral on social media showing a garbage truck crushing several addicts' wheelchairs while officers looked on.
Some said police went too far, but at a National Night Out block party Thursday afternoon Gross told WBZ NewsRadio's Kim Tunnicliffe the photo didn't tell the whole story.
"Those wheelchairs were covered with feces, blood, and urine, and they were used like a pin cushion by discarded needles," Gross said. "They were a hazard. We got them out of the way."
He resented that the image gave some what he characterized as an inaccurate view of the sweeps.
"Just because someone goes down and sees us discarding a wheelchair that's pretty much in a biohazardous condition doesn't mean that we took that from someone and wrenched that from them and that they needed that aid," Gross said. "The hospital's 300 yards away, and we make sure that anyone who needs a wheelchair gets it."
He also emphasized that police weren't rounding up hundreds of addicts; they arrested "30 individuals" who Gross said were preying on others.
Walsh said the goal of Operation Clean Sweep is to protect the general public while showing compassion to the homeless addicts and other vulnerable people in the area.
"When they went down and the police did the action there last week, we got rid of a lot of drug dealers, a lot of people preying on the sick and suffering that are there," Walsh said. "And that's what it's about—people preying on the sick and suffering, and we're not gonna stand for it."
Walsh said the operation wasn't about vilifying addicts, but rather about protecting them.
"We can't have people shooting up on the streets, we can't have that kind of devastation," Walsh said. "We have prostitution that's happening out there, young people are being prostituted for drugs. We're having drug dealers coming down and preying on these folks. We need to do everything we can to keep them safe, and trying as best we can to get them into treatment."
The mayor tied the problems in the Mass Ave-Melnea Cass Boulevard area to the opioid crisis affecting the entire country, and said the situation wasn't the result of local decisions like the 2014 closure of drug recovery facilities on Long Island.
"This is an epidemic that wasn't caused by the closing of the Long Island Bridge, this wasn't caused by anything that happened in the City of Boston," Walsh said. "This is a national epidemic, and we're trying to fight this national epidemic."
He said the city has put intensive resources into the area over the last four years, and this year increased the budget for outreach counselors by 35 percent.
Walsh, who is in recovery himself, tweeted earlier Thursday that "there is hardly an issue more personal" to him than addiction recovery. It was part of a thread in which Walsh addressed the police operations, the backlash, and the opioid crisis in general. You can read his thread by clicking on the tweet below.
"I think a lot of these folks are down and out and they don't feel their life is worth anything anymore," Walsh said. "We have to let them know their life absolutely is worth something, and when they get in recovery, when they get sober, the things that they lost can come back. There's no question about it."
WBZ NewsRadio's Kim Tunnicliffe (@KimWBZ) reports