Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Vows To Support Local Police Efforts To Curb Gun Violence
With gun violence on the rise, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts met with several big city police chiefs today to discuss how federal authorities can help.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said his office is working to stop illegal gun sales, stem the flow of firearms into Massachusetts from other New England states where gun laws are more lax, and prosecute repeat violent criminals in federal courts where sentencing can be harsher and there is less likelihood of pretrial release.
"My office charged 21 gun cases in the last week alone taking dozens of guns off the street and obviously several violent offenders," said Lelling.
Appearing at a press conference in Boston with the heads of police departments from four cities, including Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood, Lelling said his office’s focus on partnering with local law enforcement to combat gun violence stems from a national initiative called “Project Guardian.” It was announced by Attorney General William Barr last November.
Cities in Massachusetts, and across the country, have seen sharp increases in the number of shootings – both fatal and non-fatal – this year.
"Right now it is an uptick, but if it goes on much longer it becomes a trend and we don't want that," said Lelling.
Lelling said he believes a big factor in the increase in gun violence is the pandemic disrupting the smooth operations of the police and the courts.
"I think the national conversation about policing in the wake of the George Floyd killing has caused problems," said Lelling. "I think there is a tremendous amount of anti-police rhetoric that emboldens street-level offenders who are prone to violence to be more likely to commit crime because they are less afraid of the police and more likely to resist the police when the police show up."
In Springfield, there have been 56 non-fatal shootings this year – a 60 percent increase from a year ago. Earlier this week the city recorded its 15th fatal shooting of the year, two more than at this time in 2019.
"The gun play recently has been horrific in Springfield, " said Clapprood.
The commissioner said police have seized 135 illegal guns this year including, recently, several assault-style weapons.
Four of the people arrested for firearms violations were wearing GPS bracelets, said Clapprood. Twelve of the people arrested in the last two months on gun charges had prior illegal firearms convictions. Since March, when state courts closed because of the pandemic, 80 percent of the people arrested in Springfield have been released from custody to await trial.
"It has created a horrific revolving door." said Clapprood.
Clapprood, and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, have long complained about what they see as leniency by state court judges in setting low bail amounts for defendants with a history of violence.
"It makes it very discouraging for us and so we are welcoming strengthening our partnership ( with federal law enforcement) to get people incarcerated where they belong," said Clapprood.
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross voiced frustration about repeat violent offenders being freed because of fears of COVID-19 outbreaks in jails.