Police Director Michael Cozzaglio and Mayor Richard Alcombright say a zero-tolerance policy on crime in the city is showing results.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The mayor and police director say they'll keep up the pressure against the wave of "random and bold" crimes that has hit the city.
"We want to get on top of the real bad guys and get them in jail or get them out of here," said Mayor Richard Alcombright on Monday in a follow up to June's announcement of the crackdown.
The city's made 135 arrests over the past six weeks, up 35 percent, and 154 motor vehicle stops, said Police Director Michael Cozzaglio as police cracked down after two stabbings and a very public assault within days of each other. The most recent incident occurred Saturday afternoon when two masked men reportedly armed with a handgun and a knife assaulted the clerk at the Corner Store and made off with Lottery tickets, cigarettes and cash.
Both men credited the collaborative effort between the local force, state police and its Community Action Team, District Attorney David Capeless, Sheriff Thomas Bowler, and elements of the Berkshire County Law Enforcement Task Force in increasing the number of arrests.
"Their really heavy involvement in this lead us to the numbers," said Alcombright. "The 15-16 sets of boots on the street that really made a difference and this was all in response to what we saw as an escalation in a different type of crime we had not seen here in awhile and that we don't want to see here anymore."
"Overall, it's been very successful," said Cozzaglio, adding Capeless's office has been "extremely responsive."
The police director said the pressure would be maintained for the indefinite future. Alcombright said the costs have been minimal for the city, primarily in investigative resources. The department also added a fourth detective last year that's aided in more efficient and successful investigations, he said.
The police director pointed out that in most cases, the perpetrators had been apprehended and some are being held behind bars now, including the stabbing suspects and defendants in a wave of car and building break-ins. The latest suspects were caught red-handed trying to take a catalytic converter off a car, which further lead to another ring of car break-ins and metal thefts. Saturday's robbery is still under investigation.
"It's more a zero tolerance is what we're doing right now, we're really just taking a no-nonsense stance against any lawbreaker," said Cozzaglio. That includes preparatory law enforcement meetings for "mission focus," visiting known problem areas and houses, and being highly visible. The police director also encouraged residents to report suspicious activity, and to be assured they could do so anonymously.
The director said this type of police coverage has worked in the past, forcing a criminal group from New York to go back there.
Despite the rash of crimes, the mayor said the figures are actually pacing lower than the rates in 2010. What's changed is the pattern, he said, describing them as "random and bold" and "reportable crimes" that attract attention. Bar fights don't usually make the news; fights with knives do.
It's a very small piece of the population messing it up.
The boldness is being fueled by drugs, not unlike in other cities around the country. "The face of addiction has changed... so much is drug fueled," said the mayor. "In desperation, they will do anything they can."
Alcombright, a member of an addiction/heroin task force through the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, said greater strides need to be made in "really trying to find ways to help stem this problem." Sending addicts to the McGee Unit at Berkshire Medical Center to detoxify for three to five days, he said, "is like sending me to Weight Watchers for three to five days." In other words, there's not much in results.
Cozzaglio dismissed the idea that it's caused by a particular ethnic or age group. "It knows no color," he said. "We've taken the full circle of people, it's not there."
There are some elements in common, though: in addition to addictions, they tend to have lived in the area for less than five years and are not homeowners, so they are not invested in the community and often lack support systems. Still, some are lifelong inhabitants who got into trouble as teens and never got out.
"They were feeding their addiction, they're not thinking clearly, they're not right in the mind," said Cozzaglio, noting that they often go for the quick hit, the easy opportunity.
Alcombright said he has walked through some of the areas that have had problems, including the housing projects, to speak with residents. Some people have been put off by the heavy police presence, but many have welcomed it, he said.
"They're good people, they don't have much," he said. "They don't want to be bothered with this stuff either. It's a very small piece of the population messing it up."