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Neighborhood Walk Through

Ward Four residents work to fight crime, blight

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE Some residents waved and smiled, others ducked into doorways or turned down the stereos in their cars. Clearly the walk through part of the Ward Four neighborhood by members of the newly formed neighborhood watch group was noticed.

Led by Mayor Michael Sullivan and accompanied by Police Chief Anthony Scott and Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe, the group pointed out some of the problems confronting the neighborhood.

From the rear of the library, the group walked up Essex Street and down the alley along 145 Essex. There was graffiti that was possibly gang related. In the same building, but on the opposite side, the name "Thug Lord" was painted on the exterior wall at the fifth floor level. One resident said that person paints that name all around the neighborhood.

Along the routes, Ashe and his corrections officers, who are advising the crime watch group, were recognized by some residents, one of whom made a point to tell them he was employed and straight.

Walking up to Pine Street and turning the corner, the group saw what is common in the neighborhood: residents maintaining or improving their properties despite nearby blight.

Sullivan noted the apartment building at 185 Pine St. as an example of what the city is fighting. Although it is unoccupied, people use it for the drug trade and enter it from the rear of the building through an alley. Scott said that the alley had been cleaned up at one point, but a discarded sofa and other debris are now there.

Along the route, there were mattresses deposited on vacant lots. Sullivan said the city doesn't charge for the disposal of the mattresses. All the residents have to do is to bring them to the Department of Public Works. He blamed what he called a "too liberal" policy of the Department of Transitional Assistance in handing out furniture vouchers. He said that people simply junk the mattress they have as they easily can get a new one.

At the rear of 446 Appleton St., Sullivan paused to point out the rear of three buildings. Two of which, he said, are owned by responsible landlords, while the third at 446 Appleton St. is owned by a person who has done the minimum to improve or maintain his building, he said.

Sullivan emphasized there are good landlords in the city.

Walking on Suffolk Street, Sullivan picked up a water bottle and put it in one of the new recycling containers. One half of the wastebasket is for trash, while the other is for materials that can be recycled. When asked how the new baskets are working, Sullivan said, "It's a battle." He added that people still need to learn to separate trash.

Back at the library, the group discussed the walk and some of the things they had seen, one of which were prostitutes who scattered when the group was spotted.

Scott said, "There is a solution [for the city's prostitution's problem] and the solution rests right down the street."

Scott meant the district court house and said the clerk magistrate releases men and women brought in on prostitution charges with no bail. When they come before a judge, the fine is often just $25.

"They're right back on the street," he said. "This happens all of the time."

Some prostitutes have been arrested 50 to 70 times, Scott said.

The police are arresting criminals, he said, and the district attorney's office is prosecuting them.

"Where's the weak link? Figure it out for yourself," he asked.

Scott asked the neighborhood watch group to "keep giving us the information so we can keep putting these people in jail."

Speaking of the disconnect in the judiciary system, Scott added, "Eventually the light bulb will go on."

When asked about graffiti issues, Sullivan said there is a freedom of speech issue that prevents the city from doing much about it. The city can go to Housing Court on graffiti issues if the graffiti is either a threat or a solicitation to buy drugs. Rulings can take up to two or three months and there is no fine involved.

He said the city does have a power-washer that could be used to remove graffiti but that a property owner won a lawsuit with the city over alleged damages to his brick building made by the power-washer.

The next meeting of the group will be Sept. 3 at 6 p.m. at the library. Members of the watch group will be given training on what to look for in criminal activities and how to report them.