In a city where public safety consistently ranks as the top issue in public opinion polls, a veteran Springfield city councilor caused a buzz this week when he suggested people had become complacent about violence.
In an op-ed published on MassLive.com, Springfield City Councilor-at-large Tim Rooke called on the “silent majority” to speak up and help dismantle the violent drug gangs that he said are causing families to move out of Springfield and hurting businesses.
"We can not continue as a city to continue to turn a blind eye when crime occurs."
The way Rooke sees it, because the headline- grabbing gun violence in Springfield is attributed to “gang-on-gang” most people assume they’ll be safe if they stay away from known trouble spots.
"In the communities where there is gang activity, people should not have to live like that, nobody should have to live like that."
But Rooke says everyone needs to feel at risk, because excusing the violence will only make it worse.
"Eventually, and I hope I am wrong, someone is going to get shot and killed dropping off their child at school, or going to a sports activity, or to a job. That is when the lid is going to blow off the city."
Rooke, in an interview, said in no way should his op-ed piece be taken as a criticism of the police or Mayor Domenic Sarno.
" This was on my mind. How we have to be more focused on the gangs. As I said in the op-ed piece, these ( the gang members) are business people. If we let them have free reign and no interruption of the supply and demand for drugs and guns they are going to expand."
Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri, who became Springfield’s top cop on June 1, is implementing changes to make the police more pro-active in fighting crime. He wants to increase the number of police officers in uniform and on-patrol and decrease the number of investigators.
"We are trying to slowly change the culture of the police department to one of guardianship, as opposed to being warriors."
Barbieri reported to the city council’s public safety committee last month that crime in Springfield is down 23 percent year-to-date and violent assaults are down 6 percent.
The new commissioner is planning to expand to other parts of the city a successful anti-gang initiative that, as a deputy chief, he directed in one city neighborhood. It is modeled after the counterinsurgency tactics used by the U.S. military in Iraq and was even featured on 60 Minutes.
"The model does not intend to eliminate gangs. It is a collaborative effort to reduce harm by having a multifaceted approach to the gang problem," Barbieri explained.
One entity that will not be complacent about crime in Springfield is MGM. The casino development agreement with the city includes a public safety plan, according to Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy.
"Part of the agreement with the city is a major security district that includes 15 new police officers, cruisers and security cameras."
MGM’s casino project is on hold pending the outcome of the November referendum on repealing the state’s casino gambling law.