|By G. Michael Dobbs|
A letter in last week's edition certainly caught my attention. Barb Govoni of Hampden recounted how a trip to downtown Springfield turned sour for her when someone broke into her car.
I've had that happen to me not in Springfield, but in Holyoke and I understand just how painful it can be.
I'd like to quote three paragraphs from Ms. Govoni's letter:
"Although this was not a tragedy, it could have been prevented had the city of Springfield not been in such a disgusting mess, all due, of course, to its financial disarray.
"Mayor Ryan and his cronies should be ashamed of themselves for what anyone has to endure upon entering Springfield.
"The men and women of the Springfield Police Department who serve this city should be truly commended with what they have to deal with in terms of high crime and lack of support. The mayor should count his blessings that they even report to work."
I stand with Ms. Govoni in her admiration of the professionalism of the Springfield Police Department. I think, though, her criticism of Ryan is a little unfounded.
Ryan was not the mayor who used federal dollars to increase the Police Department. Ryan was not the mayor who couldn't find a replacement for those dollars when the federal money ran out. Ryan was not the mayor who laid off city workers, including police officers. Ryan was not the mayor when the patrolman's contract ran out. Ryan was not the mayor who added the finishing touches to Springfield's financial mess.
Ryan is the mayor who has had to contend with a state-appointed Finance Control Board that can veto almost his every move. He is the mayor who took the controversial, but seemingly right, position of removing former Police Chief Paula Meara with a buy-out. He is the mayor who is trying to settle the patrolman's contract under the burden of working with the Control Board. Under Ryan, the on-going re-deployment of police resources has meant more officers on the street.
Is Springfield dangerous? Well, Ryan's opponent Tom Ashe has said so and the reports of violent crime in the press seem to underscore this election year claim. There is no doubt that more police, especially a return of community policing efforts, is needed in the city. Both efforts appear to be on Ryan's agenda.
However, there is little a police officer can do if people get drunk and mad at each other and someone gets hurt. There are certain crimes that no amount of policing can prevent.
Personally, I don't view Springfield as "dangerous." I didn't see Holyoke as "dangerous," either for the many years in the 1980s when I worked there. It was at a time when that city's reputation was at its lowest.
I still meet people who actually dread going anywhere in the Paper City that isn't the mall.
In either city's case, though, I must admit that I never walked through dicey areas with a full wallet at midnight, either. Common sense needs to prevail.
As a resident, I see Springfield as a city with some serious problems that can be addressed, and as a community with many positive attributes. It remains a city with promise.