By G. Michael Dobbs
I live in Springfield. My wife and I lived in Indian Orchard for nine years before buying our home in 1990. We live in working class, working poor neighborhood where, frankly, my biggest worry is what idiotic move one neighbor who owns several properties in the area will undertake next.
The news of a weekend of violent acts in the city have, as usual, brought out the snarky comments on website forums and the various critiques on Facebook, often from people who don’t live in the city, but take some sort of joy in bashing it.
If you’ve not heard, there were four shootings and stabbings in the city, none of them fatal, thank God. The Springfield police made an arrest in one of the incidents almost immediately after it happened. The question remains the same: how does a city with unemployment, a considerable dropout rate and a high rate of poverty deal with violence from gangs and drugs?
We’ve seen calls for the increase in the number of police in the city. We’ve seen innovative efforts such as the gun buy-back program to get weapons from getting onto the street. We’ve seen the addition of surveillance technology. We’ve seen redeployment of officers and new strategies.
And crime statistics over the past few years indicate there has been substantial progress in making the city safer.
In light of the recent events, certainly the strategies that are clearly being used need to be re-assessed.
There are measures, though, that are clearly outside of the efforts of the police.
We need to address the reasons people commit these kind of crimes. Having high unemployment and a high dropout rate does not help our level of criminal activity.
I believe that our problems began when we lost our manufacturing base in the city and the region. We have had a decline that started in 1962 when the Milton Bradley plant moved to East Longmeadow, in 1968 when the Springfield Armory closed and in 1970 when Westinghouse left.
There are reactions when entry-level jobs are eliminated from an area and we are seeing it today.
Look at Holyoke, a city whose industrial decline started after WWII. Springfield is not alone. There are plenty of communities in the Northeast with the same problem.
We need the kind of jobs that have been allowed to be systemically sent overseas.
I’m hoping for people to understand the manufacture of consumer goods must be part of a healthy American economy. We just can’t be a mixture of high tech and service jobs.
Luring jobs back to Western Massachusetts is a huge long-range effort that would include some radical restructuring of state and municipal tax bases. I’m afraid I don’t see that happening any time soon.
The state and nation’s drug policies are also a huge topic that requires review. How many of these crimes involve drugs somehow? How do we eliminate illegal drugs from our communities?
We’ve been talking about that since the 1970s. How much progress have we made? How do our drug policies compare with those of other countries? Could we learn form them?
So, in the meantime, we need to address violence in the city. Would additional surveillance assist the policing efforts? More cameras in locations identified as hot spots? Do we shut down bars that have been the location of violent acts? Do we attempt to bring in additional police? Should we bring back community policing? Create sub-stations in neighborhoods with high rates of crime? How are we going to pay for any new initiative?
What would you do?
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.