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Candidates at odds over crime

Date: 10/27/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Crime in the city took center stage last week as several high profile incidents sent a mixed message to residents.

City Councilor and mayoral candidate Bud Williams released a 10-point plan to fight crime on Wednesday and charged that Mayor Domenic Sarno and Police Commissioner William Fitchet aren't doing enough about crime in light of shootings over the past week.

Standing in front of the Police Department on Pearl Street, Williams said, "The Sarno Administration has failed miserably. We're losing the battle."

Two days later on Friday, Sarno, flanked by Fitchet and his deputy commissioners, City Councilors Kateri Walsh, Tim Rooke and Jose Tosado, School Committee members Antonette Pepe and Michael Rogers, and State Reps. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera and Benjamin Swan, announced that additional state state police would be deployed in Springfield and that all of the deputy commissioners and the captains would be patrolling the streets as well.

Fitchet said that more traffic stops would be made immediately, which has proven to be effective in preventing crimes.

Both Sarno and Fitchet denied any political considerations at their press conference on Friday.

"[This is] just my reaction to the violence," Fitchet told Reminder Publications. He added that measures such as this have been used before to address violent flare-ups.

Sarno noted the escalation in crime has happened in two specific areas of the city: Mason Square and the North End.

"These are not random crimes," Sarno said. "It's all drugs and gangs."

Taking bad guys off the street

Last week, Springfield police released information on several major arrests.

Hours after Williams made his announcement on Wednesday another shooting incident took place near 51 Orchard St., sending two people in critical condition to Baystate Medical Center. Police Department spokesman Sgt. John Delaney reported the initial investigation showed the shooting was gang related.

Progress on ridding the city of criminals linked to gangs, guns and drugs was also presented Wednesday at an announcement made by Fitchet and District Attorney William Bennett. The apprehension of Springfield resident Jose Andino -- held on $1 million bail -- was hailed as a "significant arrest" by Delaney.

He explained that Andino is a major figure in supplying guns to gang members in the city. Fifteen guns were confiscated and two of Andino's associates were also arrested.

Also announced Thursday were the results of an Oct. 21 raid on what was described by Delaney as a "large 'crack' cocaine distribution ring located at 452 Central St."

The raid was made after a two-week investigation. Police recovered 212 bags of crack cocaine, $1,511 in cash, ammo rounds for a .357 magnum hand gun and packaging material for the sale of "crack."

Arrested were the following eight suspects: Carmen Sills-Rivera, age 40, of 347 Central St.; Anthony Burge, age 20, of 22 Brigham St.; Todd Cruzado, age 22, of 92 Belmont Ave.; David Jimenez, age 23, of 254 Union St.; Dasean Austen, age 22, of 27 Denton Circle; Carl Cox, age 41, of 72 Sorrento St.; Ronnie Artis, age 22, of 68 Ft. Pleasant Ave.; Deval Benton, age 21, of 452 Central St.

The charges included trafficking in cocaine (28-100 grams), violation of a drug free school zone and distribution of a Class "B" substance (crack cocaine).

Delaney said information about the "crack house" came through tips from the neighborhood and from the "Text-a-Tip" service.

At the Friday press conference, Fitchet announced that so far this year the police department had seized 270 guns from the street, as compared to 213 guns from the whole of 2008.

"You can't measure the crimes not being committed by those confiscated guns," the commissioner said.

Williams' plan

Williams said that if he were elected mayor he would implement the following 10 actions:

• Implement the 1995 Curfew Ordinance by the Police Department that would prohibit residents under the age of 18 from being on city streets unescorted from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 12:01 a.m. until 6 a.m. on any Saturday or Sunday;

• Deploy trained officers who are currently performing "office duty" to the streets and the transfer of "flex squad" officers to the anti-gang unit;

• Require the commissioner and all deputy commissioners to work Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays;

• Request more assistance from the State Police for a 90-day period;

• Seek special legislation to allow for a "regional approach to law enforcement" by using officers from other communities in Springfield;

• Seek an increase in prison sentences for those convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a crime;

• Contact the chief administrative justice to assign more judges to the district and superior courts to deal with cases involving violence and weapons;

• Assign more officers to the 4 p.m. to midnight and the midnight to 8 a.m. shifts;

• Apply for more state and federal crime grants; and

• Fund neighborhood crime watches in the city with Community Development Block grants.

"Texting messages and putting police officers on motorized scooters is not cutting it. Our citizens deserve better," Williams said.

For the first time, Williams, who voted for the hiring of Fitchet, questioned the commissioner's performance. He said that if elected he would have a "shake-up [of the department] from top to bottom. I will talk with Fitchet and if he isn't on board with the plan he may have to hit the highway."

Use the money

On Friday, State Reps. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera and Thomas Petrolati called on Sarno to use $1 million from the "Springfield Promise" trust fund to assist the Hampden County District Attorney's Office in its fight against crime in the city.

Coakley-Rivera said there is talk among some legislators that the state should ask for the return of the $20 million in the "Springfield Promise" fund. This fund represents the amount of money from the $52 million state bailout loan that was not used. The state allowed the city to set up a trust fund with the money to create a scholarship program.

Both legislators were briefed about the current crime situation and then asked Sarno if he would release $1 million from the trust -- it can be used for emergencies.

Coakley-Rivera explained the district attorney's office has been the subject of mid-year budget cuts and might face additional cuts.

She said the mayor instead urged the legislators to seek the funding through a supplemental budget at the State House.

Coakley-Rivera noted that with the hard times every city and town are facing -- as well as the state government -- her fellow legislators would not be open to allocating $1 million for Springfield when it has a $20 million resource it could use.