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Drastic drop seen in crime rates in Springfield

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD According to crime statistics for the first five months of 2008, the city has made "distinct progress" in the reduction of unlawful activities in the city, according to Mayor Domenic Sarno.

"We're making steady progress in making our streets clean and safe," Sarno said at a press conference on Thursday at Police Headquarters. Police Commissioner William Fitchet, Hampden Country Sheriff Michael Ashe and Hampden Country District Attorney William Bennett accompanied Sarno.

Comparing Jan. 1 through May 31 of this year with figures for the same time period in 2006 and 2007, murder, robbery, burglary, larcenies and motor vehicle theft are all decreased. Rape has increased as have aggravated assaults.

Fitchet said the increase in rape has come from additional reporting of rape cases, not necessarily an actual increase in incidences.

There has also been a decrease in gun robberies, but an increase in gun assaults, which Fitchet attributed to gang violence.

He called the data "encouraging," although both Fitchet and Sarno acknowledged the summer could bring an increase in crime.

Fitchet said he has been meeting with the deputy chiefs to devise a summer deployment plan, which should be ready by the end of the week. He said what has been working in the city has been to target "hot spots." Working with the Parole Department and using walking and bicycle patrols to heighten the public's awareness of a police presence has been working as well, he added.

When asked if the current statistics show a change of policing tactics from those employed by former Commissioner Edward Flynn, Fitchet said the results were the product of policies that have been in place for a period of years. He said that neither he nor his deputy chiefs could take full credit for the reduction.

"It's a fair statement [the reduction] has happened over several years," Fitchet said.

Sarno said Fitchet was being humble and said the return of the street crime strike force and the institution of the quality of life flex squad are illustrative of a change in direction and philosophy in the Police Department.