SPRINGFIELD In the nearly two years it was in existence, the Street Crimes Unit of the Springfield Police Department arrested nearly 2,000 people, recovered almost $500,000 in drug money and confiscated 118 guns.
Now, under the command of Police Commissioner William Fitchet, the unit has been re-activated with a focus on reducing gang violence and the narcotics trade.
At a press conference last week, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno explained that while former Commissioner Edward Flynn had disbanded the unit, Fitchet was bringing it back to be used as both a preventive measure and to help the police "saturate certain neighborhoods."
Sarno said he couldn't be specific in identifying which parts of the city would be the unit's focus, but did say certain parts of Mason Square and Forest Park would be among those areas.
The mayor added the unit had had tremendous success with "hot spots" in the city.
"We're going to hit back, hit back strong [with the unit]," he said.
The unit consists of 16 officers, including two canine officers, and supervisors.
Fitchet said the unit would be working closely with state and federal law enforcement agencies on gang and drug cases. He said the turf wars between gangs as they establish where they will sell drugs is creating much of the violence seen in the city.
The unit will not have their office at the police department headquarters at Pearl Street, but instead at a donated space at the Springfield Technical Community College Technology Park.
Sgt. John Delaney, who was a member of the first Street Crime Unit, said despite the impressive arrest record, the unit "never had a single citizen's complaint [made against it]."
Sarno also announced that in memory of Mario Hornsby Jr., the Springfield youth recently murdered in a drive-by shooting, the city has instituted an anti-gang hotline at 787-7027. Callers to the voice mailbox can anonymously leave information ranging from license plate numbers to descriptions of alleged gang members.
"These street thugs are not going to take over our neighborhoods and run the good people out of Springfield," Sarno added.