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Flynn: Information from citizens can make city safer

By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Members of the Springfield Police Department had a message for the residents of the Maple High Six Corners neighborhood that should resonate through the entire city: when citizens see something suspicious, get as much information as possible and call the police.

Commissioner Edward Flynn, Deputy Chief William Cochrane, and members of the Street Crime and Vice units were joined by Nicholas Cotto, who specializes in gang activities for the Department of Youth Services, at the June meeting of the Maple High Six Corners Neighborhood Council.

The June 12 meeting was conducted at the MacDuffie School.

Cochrane said the Police Department "urges groups to get together and talk about issues."

Flynn said police officials could better know where to deploy officers with information brought to them by members of a neighborhood.

Residents expressed concerns about potential gang activity in the Knox Street area of the neighborhood. Cotto said it's difficult to determine if a group of young people is actually a gang. Similar kinds of clothes might just mean people are following a fashion trend. Cotto advised against profiling young people.

He did tell the group that if graffiti is put on a building, it should be removed as soon as possible. Graffiti is a way for gangs to communicate with its members.

Cotto said that two pieces of information are important to law enforcement in assessing a gang and its activities: license plate numbers and nicknames.

Cochrane said that with the end of school foot traffic will change in neighborhoods throughout the city and residents might see young people in their neighborhoods whom they hadn't seen before.

Flynn said that officers who currently serve in the city's schools will be re-deployed this summer to help create a daytime anti-gang unit.

Residents from Mulberry Street expressed concern about young people cutting through Springfield Cemetery and into the neighborhood. There have been a rash of car break-ins at one address and Cochrane said drivers should remove any electronic devise from view that could be stolen and re-sold.

Cochrane said that surveillance cameras could cut down on this kid of crime.

Mulberry Street residents also told officers about the closed nursing home on the street that has been a source of problems in the past.

Residents called for more walking patrols in the neighborhood and Flynn said officers try to be seen in the busiest pedestrian areas. He explained his policy of "park and walk" has officers parking their cruisers and walking through a neighborhood. Flynn said it has been affected by the number of 911 emergency calls. Once a 911 call is received an officer must interrupt his or her patrol to answer that call.

Flynn said the problem with some neighborhoods is a lack of communication between residents that could stop small incidents from becoming problems that involve police officers.

"The best control is social control, Flynn said. He added that officers "are getting called to things they would never have been called to 25 years ago."