|By G. Michael Dobbs|
SPRINGFIELD – Forest Park residents spoke directly about their concerns about crime in their neighborhood to Police Commissioner William Fitchet who expressed his own frustrations at the Police Department’s level of manpower.
He told the approximately 40 residents that they need to “do everything they can to make it harder on the criminal to hurt you.”
City Councilor Thomas Ashe called the meeting in response to complaints he has received from the neighborhood. Joining Ashe at the meeting at the Faith United Church on Aug. 27 were Councilors John Lysak, Kenneth Shea, Timothy Allen and Melvin Edwards.
Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant and Deputy Police Chief Robert McFarland also attended.
Residents spoke of being afraid to walk the streets of the neighborhood and of drug deals and prostitution on streets close to the park. Fitchet said the department's BADGE program, which is an intensive policing effort, is operating in only two locations in the city: Forest Park and Mason Square.
He recommended that people jot down license plates of suspicious cars and call them into the police. If residents wish to walk in the neighborhood they should do it in groups of two or three and at night they should carry a flashlight.
When asked how to judge whether or not to call the police, Fitchet said he believes in “the instinct method.” He cautioned people to expect immediate response to every call and explained that calls are prioritized by the severity of urgency of the situation.
One woman told Fitchet she feels “like a prisoner in her own home.” Fitchet admitted there has been a change in the country when it comes to crime and even he carries his gun when he simply takes a walk outside of work.
Fitchet explained the department analyzes crime in the city in order to determine deployment of officers.
“It’s not perfect. We don’t have the perfect solution,” he admitted.
One resident wasn’t pleased with Fitchet’s explanation and said she was tired of “hearing excuses.” She called Forest Park a neighborhood in crisis and in need of “creative solutions.”
Former School Committee member Robert McCollum offered to share with Forest Park residents the crime watch model developed in East Forest Park, a suggestion Fitchet endorsed.
Fitchet said that 22 new officers would be added to the force next month. He said the department lost 11 officers due to budget cuts and retirement this year and 22 last year. In the past 11 years he said the department has decreased by 160 officers.
In speaking of deployment of officers, Fitchet noted that for the first time there would be several officers assigned to elementary schools as a reaction to the shootings in Sandy Hook, Conn. He said all of the 23 officers who work in the city’s schools are paid out of the School Department budget, rather than the Police Department funding.
Despite the reduction in resources, Fitchet said, “The mission has changed. The number of guns hasn’t changed.”
He “challenged” those who attended to do two things: enroll in the Citizen Police Academy program and begin attending the Sector H Beat Management Team meetings. The next one is at 6 p.m. on Sept. 4 at the Elks Lodge on Tiffany Street.
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