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Do crime stories hurt or help?

Aug. 6, 2012 |

By G. Michael Dobbs news@thereminder.com Here's an editorial question I frequently think about: does reporting news on various crime activities show the police are doing their jobs or does it underscore the beliefs that certain communities are "dangerous?" Last week, I received a detailed release about 31 arrests made by Holyoke police officers are part of a new effort to target who specific "high crime hot spots" in the Paper City. The charges the people arrested face include those for drugs and firearms. I offer congratulations to the Holyoke police for successfully sending a message about their on-going efforts to keep the city safe. Over in Springfield, I receive almost daily updates about arrests made by the officers of that police department. Officers apprehended two people on Aug. 1 who were identified as "major suppliers of heroin" for the region. They had 650 bags of dope with them when they were arrested and another 1,527 at their home. Another drug-related arrest the same day yielded both cocaine and heroin ready for sale. Again, a tip of the hat goes to the Springfield police for their efforts. I see these stories on two levels. The first is that these two departments are doing their jobs. The streets of these communities are safer because of arrests such as these. The second level concerns whether or not our state and federal goverment's stance on the "war on drugs" is working — something that doesn't involve the police, as they don't write legislation. Nowhere in my thought process does the idea pop up that drug arrests equate to an unsafe environment. Granted, I have lived in a working class, working poor section of Springfield for 22 years. Granted, I worked in Holyoke at a succession of three jobs, and have been covering that city since 1999 as part of this job. I'm comfortable in both communities and have seldom felt that my safety was at risk. I don't see Springfield or Holyoke as "unsafe." I see two older urban communities rich with history and potential for the future. Are there problems? Yes. Residents and officials of both cities have wrestled with the "perception is truth" issue. If people think some place isn't safe, then the truth follows that it isn't. That's a shame as these perceptions have held back both communities. So does crime news merely reinforce your beliefs about a community or does it reassure you that something is being done to address important issues? I would be interested in your opinions.
I recently was chastised for my channeling of Ambrose Bierce — which will happen from time to time — for my "over the top liberalism" by one reader and my criticism of senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren by another reader. I think Bierce would have approved of my efforts as they resulted in both sides of the political spectrum upset at me.
Speaking of Warren, I thought her message of repairing and improving the nation's infrastructure is sound. It's a time-proven way of providing a positive jolt to the economy while making improvements that will spur private business development. Look what happened in Chicopee. The state ponied up the dough to provide a new intersection on Memorial Drive. That improvement allows for the start of a new hotel, creating construction and permanent jobs. The hotel is one of several new businesses that will profit from the state's investment. The amount spent by the state is a fraction of the private dollars involved. This message is a that might resonate among voters.
Well, I screwed up twice in one week. A watchful reader pointed out I had misidentified Timothy Brennan of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, in my story about WNPR, while another reader pointed out I had my decimal point in the wrong place concerning the sales tax rate — it's actually 1.75 percent — that is fueling the Mesa Bucks program. My apologies — my only defense is that I'm human. Disagree? Drop me a line at news@thereminder.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.

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