This section will zero in on sexual assaults, high-risk domestic violence, and human trafficking cases by uniting county police departments to collaborate on investigating these crimes.
"I am honored to be the first female Berkshire district attorney, and I have made it my mission to use my position to lift women and girls up in our community," Harrington said during a press conference at the Hinsdale Fire Department on Wednesday.
"Women belong at every table where decisions are being made, but we cannot achieve gender equity without safety, existing safely in our communities should not be a privilege, it is a right and the greatest tool that I have to promote the safety of the people that I serve is to equitably distribute law enforcement resources."
The violent crimes section will support local departments in complicated and complex criminal investigations that would often be the sole responsibility of a patrol officer and will initiate and execute investigations that cross town borders.
For smaller communities who struggle with budgets, it aims to provide equal resources needed to carry out thorough and equitable police investigations.
State Rep. Paul Mark and Hinsdale Police Chief Susan Rathbun spoke to this need.
Mark — who resides in Peru — said Hinsdale is one of the largest towns he serves despite it being comparatively small. He spoke for himself and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who was also in attendance.
"As a really small town, what we face as a challenge, almost every single day is the ability to get funding, to get the resources we need to try to make sure that we can handle the issues that we have in these small towns, the same issues that are found all over this county, all over this region and really throughout the state," he said.
"Places like Hinsdale are constantly up against the lack of a revenue base, the lack of support and resources coming in from the state."
Rathbun has been a sexual assault investigator and knows that it takes time, resources, and most importantly passion to do the work. She said she is thankful for this partnership.
"Small agencies like mine rise to the occasion when asked to do more for less, we do not sacrifice public safety when faced with staffing and budgetary challenges," the chief said.
"I see this partnership as a tool to enhance the work we do every day and to bring the additional expertise and more resources and the ability to be more proactive policing to each and every section of Berkshire County."
The section consists of eight officers from five different police departments: Hinsdale, Great Barrington, Lee, North Adams and Pittsfield. Police chiefs from Berkshire communities have been given the option to assign officers to it.
All the county police chiefs signed a memorandum of understanding for the violent crime section and the DA's state police unit will provide additional training for participating officers.
The Berkshire Law Enforcement Task Force was established in the 1990s and was formerly called the Berkshire County Drug Task Force. It began as a collaboration between detectives in the Pittsfield Police Department and evolved to be dedicated to investigating major drug trafficking operations.
This work will be continued with the addition of the new section.
"Today's expansion will build on that legacy and broaden its impact to touch some of our most vulnerable victims, this section will not take the place of individual department investigations, it will enhance our collective investigation into violent crimes and bring equity to every victim in Berkshire County," Harrington explained.
"The state police detective unit assigned to my office will continue to lead investigations in unattended deaths and homicide, the existing Berkshire Law Enforcement Task Force members will continue to investigate large-scale drug and gun distribution networks, and the violent crime section will provide additional resources to tackle historically under-investigated, gender-based violence in our community."
Harrington expects there is a particular amount of overlap between human trafficking and narcotics cases because they "tend to go hand in hand," she said. The violent crime section will be working very cooperatively with the existing task force.
Elizabeth Freeman Center Executive Director Janis Broderick spoke to iBerkshires about the need for trauma-informed care for victims and prosecution of those who commit domestic and sexual violence.
"Domestic, dating, and sexual violence are tragedies and outrages in Berkshire County and they are crimes that are very different than any other crimes, they are so personal, traumatizing, and people who are trained to work with trauma victims and understand the dynamics of domestic of domestic and sexual violence is critical to addressing these cases," she said.
"I think we, in addition, we need to ensure that survivors have support through this process and ultimate protection, but it is important to hold perpetrators accountable and to track who those perpetrators are."
In 2017, Stockbridge, Adams, Pittsfield, and North Adams ranked first, third, fifth, and sixth, respectively, in the highest rate of rape reported in Massachusetts according to FBI statistics. Law enforcement investigated the domestic violence murders of 10 women and children in Berkshire County in the last five years.
On top of that, an estimated 52 percent of victims nationwide reportedly do not report violent crimes because they simply don't think that it will help. Marginalized groups in particular are wary of reporting because they don't trust the system.
Harrington said violence is not just an urban problem because domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual assaults are "incredibly common" in rural areas.
She attributed the county's economy and significant addiction rates as contributing factors for human trafficking victims.
"We have a tough economy, we have a 6 percent of our population who struggles with addiction to opioids, we have a lot of vulnerable people here and we have a lot of vulnerable women in particular," Harrington said.
"And now with COVID and the lasting ramifications of that, human trafficking looks different."
She explained that human trafficking can look like landlords pressuring tenants for sexual favors in return for rent and people being trafficked to support their addiction.
There is a mixture of adults and minors who are trafficked in Berkshire County. Harrington identified a large concern for teenagers being subjected to trafficking while utilizing different kinds of virtual platforms.
"There is a huge need to better explain that to the community, and there are people who can do that better than I can," she added. "So that will definitely be part of our efforts to explain that, what human trafficking really looks like in our community."
The violent crime section will be paid out of the DA's office budget as the Berkshire Law Enforcement Task Force is. Harrington estimates that it will be similar in cost to the task force at around $110,000.
The section members will be deployed on an as-needed basis. She believes the most significant need will be after the patrol does their initial investigation.
Officers in this section have reportedly been selected because they set a high standard of treatment towards the victims from all walks of life and this new section sends a strong message to all victims of violence that they are seen.
"We believe you, we take your trauma seriously and will thoroughly investigate," Harrington said.
"As your DA I pride myself on being solutions-oriented, I have reformed my office to prioritize violent cases over misdemeanors, I advocate for public health responses to public health problems, and we are working with community organizations to build economic and social resiliency in our neighborhoods to prevent violence."
|iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue; please keep comments focused on the issues and not on personalities. Profanity, obscenity, racist language and harassment are not allowed. iBerkshires reserves the right to ban commenters or remove commenting on any article at any time. Concerns may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.|
- New Candidates Tackle Issues at Pittsfield School Committee Debate
- Paul Mark Announces Run for State Senate
- Patrick's Pub For Sale After Almost 40 Years in Business
- Pittsfield Ward Candidates Make Their Pitch to Voters
- Two Pittsfield Seniors Recognized with Superintendents Award
- Pittsfield Confirms COVID-19 Cases In Post Office