In the wake of several high-profile criminal incidents in and around the central part of the City this past year, city officials this week have proposed taking a $1 million bite out of that crime.
City Manager Jay Ash and Council President Dan Cortell filed a 10-point action plan to focus additional resources and programming on the City’s priority of reducing crime. The duo, along with Police Chief Brian Kyes, have fashioned the plan to support and expand law enforcement initiatives and pursue other, non-policing means to keep Chelsea and its residents safer.
Three highlights from the plan that immediately jump out are hiring five new police officers in order to accommodate more walking patrols, providing grants for residents to purchase home security cameras and hiring street outreach workers.
“Public safety continues to be our top priority,” said Cortell. “We’ve increased funding and directed other resources to combating crime in the past, and I believe the totality of what we’re doing is making a difference. However, none of us will rest if even just one crime is being committed, so this latest action plan greatly extends our efforts at further reducing and eliminating crime in our community.”
Chief Kyes reports that major crimes are down 25 percent for 2013, with every month of the year having a lower crime rate than the same month one year prior.
“We’re all pleased to see crime plummeting, and I’m very proud of the members of our department for what they’re doing and how they’re doing it,” he said. “However, we can’t stop here and just be excited about a 25% drop. We need to push further and prevent more crime from happening and do a more exhaustive job of intervening in the lives of people who are prone to crime and the situations where crime is more likely to occur. This action plan will help us do so.”
Ash said the trio have been talking, researching and thinking out the newest strategy. While crime statistics appear to be going down this year, a handful of violent and shocking broad-daylight incidents have grabbed the public spotlight and altered some perceptions about safety. One of those incidents was noon-time shooting near City Hall where one man was shot and another innocent bystander further down the street was hit in the leg with a stray bullet.
“We’ve looked at what’s been working and where the gaps might be,” said Ash. “We’ve listened to what others have had to say, and we’ve not shied away from taking on the tougher issues. What we are proposing, if all done right away, could cost us another $1 million in our police and human services budgets. But, we’ve managed our dollars wisely and have more economic development on the way. Doing so again puts us in a position where we can spend more to do even more on our public safety agenda.”
In the area of supporting what is working, the leaders hope to make Chelsea Police Department’s (CPD) Street Robbery Task Force a permanent shift. Unveiled this year and in operation for most of 2013, the task force has been credited with helping to drive down crime rates. The task force directs undercover officers, teamed together from early evening into early morning hours, to be on the lookout for situations and people who may potentially get caught up in crime.
“It works,” boasted Kyes, “because it reduces activity in potential hotspots and lets the would-be bad guys know that we’re already watching them.”
The action plan will also fund the City’s match to a federal grant to hire five more police officers to add to what is already the largest police contingent the department has ever had.
“While there are some things happening in Washington that I’m not so pleased about, there are also some good things occurring,” said Congressman Mike Capuano (D-Somerville). “This policing grant comes at the right time for the right places, especially in Chelsea, where we’re all having some success at beating back crime. The new officers should give city officials more momentum to do so.”
The additional officers will help increase walking routes and general police visibility, actions for which a number of councillors have been advocating. Throughout the summer, a handful of councillors – specifically Councillors Joe Perlatonda and Giovanni Recupero – have called for uniformed officers walking a beat.
“Again, we’ve been listening and have heard loud and clear that some people want to see more police officers out of their cars and visible,” said Cortell. “By adding the new police officers through the new federal grant, the chief assures us that we’ll be able to get the visibility up to where it is more noticeable and impactful,” informed Cortell, who also disclosed that the plan will begin to look at the assignment of even more new police officers if casino mitigation funding from either Everett or Revere comes the city’s way, as anticipated.
The plan also recommends extending funding to support the ongoing efforts around the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative. Through SSYI, which is a state program with a local match and local control, police and community organizations, primarily Roca in Chelsea, identify and work to change the violent tendencies and lifestyles of up to 100 young men, ages 17-24.
“We’re seeing tremendous success on this partnership between the police and our agency,” reported Molly Baldwin, the executive director of Roca. “Change certainly takes time, but we have a model based on best practices, substantial data analysis and rigorous expectations of the young men with whom we are engaged. We’re doing good for and with them, and, as a result, for and with the community at large.”
Other aspects of the plan include working with the courts to establish a “crime free zone” in the downtown and exploring the establishment of a program to fund the private purchase of home security cameras.
“We want to make places safer,” said Ash. “Adding a network of private security cameras will deter crime and provide better evidence if something does happen. Regarding the crime free zones, the chief and our courts are talking about stay away orders for those who have already been convicted of certain crimes in our downtown, so they don’t return and take up the same types of activities they were arrested for,” explained Ash, who also noted that a downtown planning exercise being led by The Neighborhood Developers is likely to contribute to the betterment of the downtown as well.
Ash said a significant priority of his is the contracting with a local community organization for the establishment of a navigator program. Ash envisions two or more outreach counselors out on the streets and helping people navigate through the multiple programs that could improve their lives and clean-up the streets.
“Our police can’t be both law enforcers and social workers,” said Ash, who mentioned the idea came up as a result of the anti-drug campaign MGH and he have been leading locally. “We need to have counselors who can engage those in need and encourage them to make it through the myriad of programs that exist to help them with their lives. By doing so, we’d also hope to get those people out of their unhealthy routines, including, most notably, drug activity.”
Regarding unhealthy lifestyles, Ash also wants to formalize a task force that had been looking at prostitution prevention and intervention, which had a particular focus on the female side of the prostitution equation.
“MGH, Roca and some other partners helped us to get a better understanding of who the women are and why they’re engaging in prostitution,” Ash said. “We need to do a better job at addressing prostitution, and the approach of intervening in the lives of those who are engaged in it makes sense to me, both from a law enforcement and a compassion perspective.”
Lastly, the plan would provide for the the police department to hire a civilian crime watch manager that would work with existing crime watches and encourage other crime watches to form.
“Getting neighborhood residents more engaged in their neighborhood and with each other is a tried and tested way of building safer neighborhoods,” said Kyes. “We’ve done a lot of good work with our community service officers but we want to be even more proactive in getting people to the table to help us help them and their neighbors by carrying out the tasks that crime watches do, from engaging with each other to attacking problem areas and issues in their neighborhood.”
The action plan represents continuing work by Ash and Kyes, and Cortell’s last major effort as council president this term. He expects that the new City Council, which will return all of its members and be re-sworn for a new term in January, to take up the package immediately.
“The priority continues to be obvious and unanimous, so I expect we’ll have a conference or two to drill down further on each of these items and then produce a final package to be adopted and funded,” forecasted Cortell. “From there, there will be a lot of hard work to continue the positive trends and not fall back at all on our ultimate goal of making Chelsea a safer and healthier place to live, work and play.”
Most of the other councillors deferred comment until they had a chance to study the proposal in depth. Off the cuff comments were mostly positive, though some felt adding more police officers to an already-large contingent might not be the best use of money. Others said they would have liked to see funding directed more towards activities and/or safe havens for older teens and young adults.
All councillors spoken to, however, were excited to see the inclusion of more walking patrols and the introduction of a ‘crime-free zone’ in the central part of the City.