The city of Pittsfield has hired a Berkshire native with international conflict experience to tackle gang activity and prevention.
Adam Hinds of Shelburne Falls, Mass. has traveled to conflict areas the whole world was watching. Just months ago, he was in the government-controlled city of Damascus, Syria working for the United Nations to disarm the country’s chemical weapons program.
“It’s one of these dynamics that I think takes place in a civil war where folks try to make sure that it’s life as usual,” Hinds said. “So literally we’re driving down the street and people were planting flowers in the medians of the road and the streets were clean and then every 15 minutes you’d be hearing outgoing shelling and rocket fire. It’s an odd moment for sure. You’d be in the middle of a meeting and the lights would go out because maybe a mortar hit.”
Hinds calls experiences like that surreal, knowing other areas of Syria under government attack were and are in much more disarray. The 37-year-old joins the city of Pittsfield as program coordinator for the city’s Shannon Grant. The state grant focuses on gang management and prevention targeting teenagers to young adults. This year’s award is $100,000. Mayor Dan Bianchi says last year’s $60,000 grant was managed by volunteers working with more than 200 youths in partnership with Pittsfield Police, the county’s Sheriff’s Department and community groups.
“I look forward for him to identify those types of programs and outreach efforts that will make the most sense,” said Bianchi.
Mary McGinnis is the city’s director of administrative services and helped manage the grant last year. She says the city fought hard to get a grant increase to be able to hire a program coordinator to manage two recently opened community centers and other programs that target youth in a city with less opportunity following job losses that started before the recession.
“There’s violence,” McGinnnis said. “There’s poverty. Things that if we pool our resources we can actually combat.”
The city cited a sharp increase in violent gang activity among members of the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings and other groups resulting in murders, home invasions and weapon-related crimes. The application letter points out there were four shootings last summer injuring five gang members. Hinds says he wanted to get back to his native Berkshire County and make a direct impact on the community.
“I have to admit when I was overseas doing the work, whether it was in Iraq or on the peace process, it’s incredibly interesting stuff, but I didn’t always get to see the results of my work,” said Hinds.
Hinds says he can draw parallels from his experiences in heated conflicts in order to stop ongoing criminal activity.
“It means really trapping or locking in any of the bad actors and trying to get everybody on board,” he said. “Whether it’s business leaders, local organizations, clergy and the rest to really kind of take a stand.”
Hinds also notes quality of life as a major factor for people resorting to crime.
“It’s making sure the basic needs of folks that are engaging in some of the activities that we are targeting that there’s some opportunities and alternatives provided as well,” Hinds said. “Whether it’s GED-training or job training, those types of things.”
Hinds graduated from Tufts University with a Masters in Law and Diplomacy in 2003. He has worked for the UN in the United States and abroad for the past 10 years.