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Police Commissioner Plans More Innovation In Crime Fighting


In his first year on the job Springfield, Massachusetts Police Commissioner John Barbieri said he has made progress toward making the police department more efficient and effective.  He plans to introduce more innovation into stopping crime in the state’s third-largest city.   

    The police department has been reorganized to put more patrol officers and supervisors on the streets.  A crime analysis unit has been launched to provide information to the patrols in real-time. Training has been improved to make it less likely a police officer will resort to deadly force when confronted with a tense situation.

    Barbieri said all this, and more, he has done since becoming police commissioner last year is designed to make the police more nimble and proactive in preventing crime and more responsive to the public.

   " We have made a lot of progress. It is incremental. It is slow change," he said.

    Barbieri  spoke Tuesday at a forum sponsored by the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield.

    He said crime, overall, is down and arrests are up.  Springfield has recorded 11 homicides so far this year – the same number as Boston, a city that is three times larger than Springfield.  Barbieri said medium-sized cities in Massachusetts and elsewhere are seeing an upswing in gun violence.

      " Our biggest push is to reach out to the community and try to get them to cooperate," he said. " As difficult as it is for us to locate people with handguns it is a lot more difficult for the DA to prosecute someone if we don't have witnesses."

     During a time when police-community relations have been strained to the point of violence in some parts of the country, Barbieri said the Springfield police last year responded to more than 186,000 calls, made over 5,000 arrests, and logged fewer than 100 complaints – most for rudeness, not brutality.

     Springfield police, earlier this year, expanded an anti-gang initiative known as C-3 policing which draws on counterinsurgency tactics used by the U.S. military in Iraq. The program, which relies on residents and business owners working hand-in-hand with police officers to identify neighborhood trouble spots, operates in four small geographic areas that account for 12 percent of the city’s total crime.

     Barbieri said he hopes to introduce a new initiative citywide later this year that utilizes a collaborative effort involving social service agencies, health care providers, and community groups that intervene with families and individuals identified as having problems that could lead to criminal behavior.

   " It is an early warning system to recognize this person is about to go into crisis, be it domestic violence or what have you. Then reach out to the group to everyone involved with an ability to resolve an issue at that address," he said.

    People at Tuesday’s forum applauded Barbieri’s presentation.  Sarah Page, a vice president with HAP Housing of Springfield, said the C-3 initiative appears very promising.

    " If we don't get crime taken care of  in neighborhoods I can build and revitalize housing all I want but people won't move in if the streets are not safe," she said.

          The selection of a new police commissioner last year was controversial because Mayor Domenic Sarno chose to limit the field of candidates to the department’s three deputy chiefs, and to conduct only private interviews.

   Dave Vigneault, a political activist who was among those critical of how the commissioner’s job  was filled, said Barbieri has won over the skeptics.

   After years of budget cuts that decimated the ranks of the Springfield Police Dept., the number of officers will climb to more than 400 later this year after the graduation of a police academy class of 30 cadets.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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