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Several key crime stats drop in Holyoke

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

HOLYOKE An article published by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth in the autumn of 2006 stated that Holyoke is perceived as a dangerous city, "though efforts to combat that perception, and the underlying reality, are under way." An announcement from Police Chief Anthony Scott last Monday proved those efforts are making a difference.

The release of the Uniform Crime Report for 2007 stated that violent crime in the city of Holyoke dropped by 40 percent when compared to 2006, and major crime dropped by eight percent during the same period.

"Major and violent crimes were defined by the FBI many years ago in their Uniform Crime Report as Part I offenses," Scott explained. "These Part I offenses were defined as murder/manslaughter, rape/sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson." In recent years, aggravated assault was divided into aggravated assault and aggravated assault with a firearm, he continued.

"Of these Part I offenses, murder/manslaughter, rape/sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault (with firearm) were considered violent Part I offenses," Scott said. He considers all Part I offenses to be serious.

Murder, robbery, aggravated assault and motor vehicle theft all decreased in 2007, but there were more reports of rape, aggravated assault with a firearm, breaking and entering, theft/larceny and arson.

"You usually find that things like thefts and larceny go up when the economy dips down," Holyoke Mayor Michael Sullivan told Reminder Publications. He added that the higher number of rapes in 2007 doesn't necessarily mean there were more rapes it means that more were reported and he sees that as a good sign, as women in the community are more aware of what needs to be done to find their attackers.

"These are still areas we need to work on, however," he said.

Scott attributes the decrease in crime to a number of factors, including "the hard work of the supervisors and officers of this [police] department ... the civilian employees of the department right down to the building maintenance man."

"The unrelenting efforts of Mayor Sullivan with his peace initiative, mediation program, his assault on abandoned properties and absentee landlords, his efforts to clean up the appearance of Holyoke, his managerial approach in letting department heads manage their daily operations [aided in the drastic decrease in crime]," Scott stated.

He also attributed the decrease in crime to assistance from Fire Chief David LaFond and the members of the city's fire department, the health department, City Council President Joseph McGiverin, Councilor and Public Safety Chair Patricia Devine and the entire City Council.

"We appreciate the chief and his effective use of police resources," Sullivan said of Scott. "We agree that you can't approach a social issue like crime with just one tool. You need multiple tools and community involvement." Sullivan believes things like the city's tip line and eyewitness reporting forms have helped to include Holyoke citizens in the fight against crime.

"On my first day of office, I was sworn in at 10 a.m. and at noon was told of two young adult homicides," Sullivan continued. "It was a sobering experience. I thought, 'I took office two hours ago. What do we need to do here to make a difference?' It's been an incredibly interesting journey in attacking crime."

Scott noted Sullivan's Peace Initiative as another reason why the crime rate decreased last year. The goal of the initiative is to promote change in the city by initiating and supporting non-violent and peaceful solutions to problems. A Peace Initiative Committee meets monthly with leaders of faith-based organizations, law enforcement, schools and community partnerships to discuss ways to achieve that goal.

"I believe that Mayor Sullivan's Peace Initiative has had and continues to have a significant impact on violent and major crime because it brings everyone to the table to encourage involvement," Scott said. "As it has been said, if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. The Peace Initiative is a significant part of the solution."

Another important component of the solution included the activities of the city's Narcotics/Vice Division, under the supervision of Lt. David Pratt, according to Scott. He said the detectives assigned to this division place their lives on the line every day of the week and develop and execute an average of two drug and/or firearm search warrants per week.

"In 2007 they removed a total of $619,693 in illegal drugs from the streets of Holyoke," Scott noted. "They seized over $100,000 in U.S. currency and property in 2007. They effected over 300 arrests in 2007."

While Scott lauded the work the city has done to prevent crime, the fight is not over. He and his staff have several operations planned for 2008 that he believes will impact crime, but he didn't want to discuss them before they are implemented.

"As Al Jolson used to say ... 'You ain't seen nothing yet,'" Scott stated.