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State Spending $5 Million To Curb Violence In Pittsfield

This is a picture of a Pittsfield Police car at a shooting scene in July 2015.
Jim Levulis
Pittsfield Police investigate a shooting scene in July 2015.

Entering a new year with a new mayor, Pittsfield is receiving nearly $5 million to address violence over the next 10 years.Earlier this month, Mayor Dan Bianchi’s office announced Pittsfield had been awarded a Safe and Successful Youth Initiative grant. Starting out with $350,000 for fiscal 2016 and increasing to half a million dollars for each of the next nine years, Bianchi says it’s the largest youth grant the city has ever received.

“Let’s face it…if you choose a life of drugs and crime one or two things are going to happen,” Bianchi said. “Nobody retires. They don’t have a 401k for those professions. You are going to end up incarcerated for a long time or dead at an early age.”

The Pittsfield Police Department applied for the grant, for which the city was eligible based on violent crime statistics. The department will provide a list of proven-risk males between the ages of 17 to 24 and working with community agencies assist them in completing education or training.

Adam Hinds chairs the steering committee of Pittsfield Community Connection, which formed in 2014 out of the city’s Shannon Grant funding focusing on at-risk teenagers.

“Once you’re out of high school you need a different set of incentives,” Hinds said. “That’s what this grant provides and allows for…a longer menu of the tools that can be used. There is money to have subsidized employment to help the employers who will take a risk on these guys and it’s a pretty serious carrot.”

PCC runs a mentorship program with about 40 young people. Hinds, who previously served as the organization’s executive director, says this latest effort takes that program to another level of seriousness. Behavioral health and direct street outreach are also parts of the SSYI initiative.

“The good news is it absolutely is a serious injection of funds and attention toward targeted youth who are facing obstacles to development,” Hinds said. “When we did apply with the police department as the grantee it was in the summer right after two shooting deaths in Pittsfield and quite frankly this is exactly what the city needs because allows us to be very deliberate in targeting the youth that are most likely to be involved in such incidents that we saw this summer.”

Twelve of 20 eligible cities based on violent crime between 2011 and 2013 were awarded a grant. FBI statistics from 2014 show there were 194 violent crimes including 129 aggravated assaults and 35 reported cases of rape in Pittsfield, which has a population of nearly 44,000. No murders were reported in 2014. For comparison, Holyoke with 40,000 people had 390 violent crimes.

Hinds says about a dozen men will be involved with the SSYI initiative in the first six months with the expectation that number will increase. On July 4th, a multiple gun shooting killed one person and injured four others. The victims’ ages ranged from 20 to 26.  Later that month, an 18-year-old was shot and killed in the middle of the day near a barber shop on Tyler Street.

Bianchi is leaving office as current City Clerk Linda Tyer is to be sworn in as mayor January 4th. Throughout the year’s debates, Tyer called for more police officers and talked about Pittsfield exploring a Cure Violence program. The organization takes the stance that violence is a public health issue, a model used by more than 50 cities and groups in the U.S. along with places like Syria and South Africa. In a post-election interview with WAMC, Tyer said she also plans to support the mentoring program.

“So I’m really intrigued by how we have this three-pronged approach to addressing crime and violence in a way that’s responsive, empathetic and compassionate as well as serious about not tolerating certain types of criminal activity in our community,” said Tyer.

Other cities selected for the SSYI program include Springfield, Holyoke and Worcester. The state says a recent study by the American Institutes for Research found that nine cities that participated in SSYI had 1 fewer homicide per month, 65 fewer aggravated assaults and 139 fewer violent crimes per month than non-SSYI cities.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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