| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Do you know the signs increased drug or gang violence? That gangs are using young teenage women as prostitutes? These questions were asked and answered at a presentation hosted by the Citywide Violence Prevention Task Force on April 12.
The Violence Prevention Task Force is a collective of over 60 organizations who collaborate to analyze social trends and work determinedly to develop prevention strategies, interventions, and solutions to reduce violence.
At the workshop, attended by teachers, neighborhood activists, librarians and others, three speakers reviewed current information on these criminal activities.
Springfield Police Detective Jaime Bruno didn’t minced words when he told the group that heroin is “out of control” in the area. He stressed the heroin epidemic isn’t just an urban problems but is in the suburbs as well.
Addiction “strikes every race … every walk of life,” Bruno said.
A veteran of the Narcotics Bureau for 16 years, Bruno said when he fist started heroin was selling for $20 to $25 a packet wholesale. It’s now $2.50 a packet at the wholesale level.
The key to combatting the problem is education, he stressed. He added that contacting the police with information is also important.
For instance, seeing an area in the neighborhood that has the telltale small plastic packets littering the ground indicates heroin use. This information is important to share with the police.
Heroin is now the third leading cause of death in the Commonwealth as fatalities due to overdoses have become more and more common, Bruno said.
He blamed the media for greater attention paid to the recent heroin with packets stamped with the world “Hollywood.” This stronger heroin was attributed to overdoses and the media reports caused some addicts to seek it out.
Besides sharing information with police, Bruno noted the Commonwealth’s Good Samaritan Law provides immunity to people reporting overdoses.
The law states, “A person who, in good faith, seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug-related overdose shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance under sections 34 or 35 if the evidence for the charge of possession of a controlled substance was gained as a result of the seeking of medical assistance.”
Bruno noted the law doesn’t excuse the sale of drugs – “Nothing contained in this section shall prevent anyone from being charged with trafficking, distribution or possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.”
Nicholas Cotto, Municipal Police Institute and Gang Intelligence Instructor, spoke about recognizing gang activity and the exploitation of teenaged girls by gangs.
He said gangs are recruiting members as young as age 10 and that “every year [the women] are getting younger and younger.”
Cotto said case history show that teenage girls as young as 14 are being used as prostitutes for men between the ages of 38 and 68.
He blamed parents for not paying attention to their children and noted how one 6-year-old was seen to be playing the violent and sexually charged video games “Grand Theft Auto.”
The responsibility of helping children rests on the schools and social workers more than the parents in some cases.
Speaking to the teachers in the room, Cotto said, “You became the parents of these kids.”
Cotto said people can look at the way teenagers are dressed to identify them as potential gang members. Teenagers wearing “$300 to $400 of gear but don’t have jobs” is one sign, he said.
Another is a group of young men all wearing the same article of clothing in a neighborhood. Couple their appearance with the incidence of crime is another indication.
Gangs are using illegals drugs to make young girls addicts and then exploit their addiction to force them as prostitutes, Cotto said. He noted young women from Massachusetts are being brought to states as far away as Florida for this purpose.
“If you tell a young lady you’re going to take her to heaven, she’ll follow you to hell,” Cotto said. He added, “If they [the young women] don’t meet their quota they get hurt bad.”
John Lewis representing the Shannon Community Safety Initiative spoke of the number of area nonprofit groups that collaborate to prevent at-risk teens with a variety of social, educational and employment programs.
Darryl E. Moss, the Mayor’s liaison to the Task Force said, “The harsh reality is that no community is immune to gang violence, human trafficking, and drugs. The intention of this workshop is to help our community partners gather important information which will allow us to effectively plan our work and coordinate city wide strategies as we move forward. This opportunity not only puts concerned groups on the same page, but in the same sentence.”
In the near future, the Task Force will publish a listing of all of its future trainings and workshop.
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