An anti-crime task force was launched on Friday to help almost 50 mostly small towns in western Massachusetts combat drugs, guns and gangs.
The members of the task force, most of whom will be working undercover, were sworn in Friday at the Northampton office of the Northwestern District Attorney. The top priority is to disrupt the distribution of drugs, which District Attorney David Sullivan said is at the root of most crime in Hampshire and Franklin Counties.
The task force will allow law enforcement to operate beyond a single town’s jurisdiction. Sullivan said roughly 20 local police officers volunteered to serve on the task force. It also includes the sheriff departments from Hampshire and Franklin Counties and a state police narcotics unit. Sullivan called it an innovative approach.
A similar task force was created last year in Berkshire County.
Interstate 91, which runs through both Hampshire and Franklin Counties is a supply route for drugs from the New York City area, and guns from New Hampshire, where firearms laws are not as strict as in Massachusetts.
Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan said it is shocking to see how budget cuts have hobbled local police departments
The Northwestern District Attorney’s Office was awarded $81,000 by the state’s Community Innovation Challenge Grant Program to form the task force. More than $500,000 in so-called in-kind services such as equipment and office space is being provided by local police and the Massachusetts State Police.
Hampshire County Sherriff Robert Garvey urged the task force members to use the county jails as resources for their investigations.
The Northwestern DA’s office also received a $64,000 state grant to expand a program to combat juvenile fire setting. The program which combines treatment and education works with children between the ages of 5 and 17 who start fires.