SPRINGFIELD – The message at the meeting at American International College (AIC) on April 24 had several parts: despite the random occurrences that sent several bullets ricocheting into buildings in the past few weeks, the campus is safe and combatting crime has both short-term and long-term strategies.
The auditorium at the Karen Sprague Cultural Center was standing room only as students and faculty members listened to college President Dr. Vincent Maniaci, Mayor Domenic Sarno and Springfield Police Commissioner William Barbieri speak and take questions.
Maniaci praised Sarno and Barbieri for the work the city has done to address the issue and said he has “absolute trust” in the city officials.
Barbieri said that as best as the police can determine no one at the college and no place at the college was targeted.
He said the shootings were part of a “blood feud” between two rival street gangs or posses. The recent conflict came out of a shooting in Hartford, CT, of one of the members.
The police will have a very visible presence in the neighborhood surrounding the college and will “saturate” it, Barbieri said.
The goal of the short-term effort will be to “pick off the most prolific offenders,” people who are involved in gangs, guns and drugs.
“We will be out here in heavy numbers,” he said.
He asked for the cooperation of both the college community and the residents to call 911 if they see something suspicious.
Sarno said, “We will knock this down.” He added, “Long term, we want to get to the core of the issue.”
AIC Police Chief David Kuzmeski said the college has been “aggressive, very aggressive in approving campus safety.”
He noted the college has more officers and has upgraded the requirements for their employment. There are also more surveillance cameras covering the campus.
“I can say with confidence the campus is the safest it has ever been,” Kuzmeski said.
In reaction to the recent issues, Kuzmeski said the campus police has increased their patrols and are working closely with both city and state police.
In answering a question from a student about what the city has done in the past four years to increase safety, Barbieri said his department has “improved enormously.” He said the police are now looking at the “long term causation” of crime.
“There has been a growing realization that making arrests doesn’t solve problems,” he said.