With its capacity to capture headlines and late night news teasers, crime remains one of the troubles for which Springfield get plenty of attention. Although the news can make the city appear to be a river of blood set against the din of incessant gunfire, the situation is not quite that bad. At the same time, only a fool would say that the city has a handle on crime, especially in its poorest neighborhoods. Neither a Pollyannaish perspective nor the media’s apocalyptic image are conducive to finding a reasoned, yet broad approach to the problem. Two city councilors have stepped forward with some fresh ideas that do not succumb to either extreme.
Tonight Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton and Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen introduces a package of reforms, ordinances and resolutions to address crime at many of its stages. The ordinances would establish revolving funds the city could use to pay for local crime prevention, overtime, a new gun squad and other gun anti-proliferation efforts. The resolutions, by contrast, urge action on the part of several different bodies to help curb gun violence and youth delinquency.
None of these measures would be a panacea for Springfield’s ills and Allen and Fenton do not sell them as such. Both councilors are also careful not to criticize other efforts made to rein in crime, an allusion to closures of Worthington Street and earlier cessation of entertainment at city bars.
Still there is the sense that the city needs to be bolder, bigger than such token efforts. If crime is consuming the city than what has been proposed up to now cannot be expected scratch the surface. Rather many recent efforts often seem to fit in with the sense of helplessness that has tended to paralyze the city from taking any substantive measures to reduce crime.
Like many urban centers, guns are the source of the city’s worse violence. Knife fights and beatings do not lead to the same kind of bedlam that frightens residents. Many, if not most of the city’s homicides are gun crimes, fed by a steady flow of illegal weapons. While Massachusetts actually has decent gun control laws, illegal weapons can easily flow into Springfield from other more weakly-controlled states like Vermont or up the Iron Pipeline from as far away as Georgia.
In a telephone interview with Western Mass Politics & Insight, Councilor Allen described the crime packaged he introduced with Councilor Fenton as a part of a broader effort to help get the city off the floor. “It is time for Springfield to be a little stronger,” he said noting that the city often takes the role of victim on the subject of crime.
The ordinances proposed by Allen and Fenton would grant the city the authority to seize vehicles within which illegal guns are located. The ordinance makes exceptions for common carriers (like buses) and for those who are clearly unaware their vehicles are used for illegal activity.
The money gleaned from those seizures would be used for a wide range of crime-fighting purposes. Among them would be the creation of a gun squad within the police department to address the proliferation of illegal guns. Another fund would provide for the creation of a gun tip line. There are allegations of “community guns” in existence in the city hidden in areas where neighborhood criminals can access them for use during the commission of a crime. The tip line would allow tipsters to confidentially reveal the location of these weapons and receive a reward, likely in the form of a gift card.
Finally, a fund would exist for community involvement in crime fighting. Specifically, the ordinance calls upon ward councilors to convene ward-based meetings. At those meetings, residents would develop a list of crime concerns and, using the money from the fund, allocate resources needed to fight that crime. There is also a provision to help fund a gun court should Hampden County District Attorney Mark Mastroianni opts to do so. Continue reading