|By G. Michael Dobbs|
HOLYOKE Residents of Ward Four want to do something about the prostitutes, drug dealers and other criminal in their neighborhood. They met for a third time last week to firm up plans to form a neighborhood watch.
The group will be meeting the first Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. at the Holyoke Public Library.
By noting where members live, the group decided the boundaries for the watch area. It will be bordered by Dwight Street, Holy Cross Church, Pleasant Street, Sycamore Street, Hampshire and Chestnut streets.
The area is also known as the "Tree Streets" section of Holyoke.
The discussion was led by Mayor Michael Sullivan and two staff members, Jennifer Perez and Grace Lynch and included representatives from the Holyoke Police Department and the Hampden County Sheriff's Department.
Sullivan said that he would ask Sheriff Michael Ashe and Police Chief Anthony Scott to accompany the group with a walk through the area. The walk is designed to allow residents to point out problems law enforcement officials might not already know and to make a statement to the neighborhood.
One resident asked if a telephone booth near Elm and Chestnut Streets could be removed as prostitutes use it as a meeting place. Sullivan said that if the phone booth was on private property, the city could not have it removed without the property owner's permission.
Abandoned buildings in the ward are a considerable concern, Sullivan said, as there are 214 such properties in the area.
"We go vigorously after the owners as long as we can," he said.
He noted the city is undertaking a legal effort to have an out-of-state property owner arrested and brought back to Massachusetts.
The residents will be trained by law enforcement officials on what to look for in reporting crimes and how to report them. The watch members received a tip sheet at the meeting that reminded them to remember:
The specific location, the time of day and the date of the incident.
A description of the people involved and how they were acting.
Any recurring patterns of behavior.
The tip sheet also urged the watch members to stay calm, but remain alert and to begin with the basic and move to specifics in any report.
Above all Israel Rivera of the Sheriff's Department said, "Your safety is first."
"This is a great start," Sullivan said.