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Crime Is Down In Springfield But New Police Commissioner Cautions About Expectations

City of Springfield

Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri — on the job just five weeks — has made his first public report.  Crime is down in Massachusetts’ third- largest city and the police commissioner has a plan to keep it that way.

Police Commissioner Barbieri told the Springfield City Council’s Public Safety Committee Tuesday night that he is making “incremental changes” as part of a five-point reorganization plan designed to make the police department more pro-active in preventing crime.

"We are trying to slowly change the culture of the police department to one of guardianship rather than being warriors," said Barbieri.

Barbieri said he plans to gradually transfer officers from investigative units to uniformed patrol divisions, provide training to officers in forensics, intelligence gathering and other specialties, and create a major crimes unit that will take on investigative work now done in other divisions.

"Through the use of increased accountability, improved crime analysis and quality assurance we will be able to improve the quality of life of the residents of the city."

Total crime in Springfield is down 23 percent year-to-date, and violent assaults are down 6 percent, according to Barbieri.  But he said the public perception of Springfield as a dangerous place persists because of headline-grabbing spates of gun violence.  A rash of shootings occurred during Barbieri’s first week in office, and then the gun violence subsided.

" It does not mean we have rounded the corner, it means we are not any different than in the past."

The commissioner highlighted the arrests in late June of 22 Springfield men on federal and state criminal indictments charging them with serious drug and gun offenses.

"Those people were targeted as prolific offenders. The arrests contributed to a safer summer. Unfortunately there are people out there willing to step into their shoes," said Barbieri.

Barbieri said he is using “traditional methods” to combat crime during the summer months. Patrols are being beefed up in so-called hot spots.  Massachusetts State Police are augmenting the Springfield police patrols.  Extra attention is being given to the downtown metro-center with foot and bicycle patrols.

 City Councilor Tom Ashe, chairman of the public safety committee, said he was pleased with plans described by Barbieri.

"Change takes time. I'm certainly willing to give Commissioner Barbieri the time and resources he needs"

Councilor Orlando Ramos said he is frustrated by frequent reports from police that witnesses to shootings, and often the victims themselves, are unwilling to cooperate with investigators. He urged Barbieri to consider offering cash rewards for crime tips.

"Just like other urban centers we  struggle with this very stubborn no-snitching code. We can try to combat that by offering incentives in exchange for information."

Questioned about the possibility of a late-night curfew for teenagers, Barbieri discouraged councilors from considering it.  He said rounding up large numbers of teenagers and detaining them until they can be released to a parent or guardian would be a drain on police resources.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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