News that more police will be patrolling Haverhill’s crime-plagued Mount Washington area is welcome. Mayor James Fiorentini likes to tout statistics that say crime is down in the city. But those questionable figures provide little comfort to law-abiding inner-city residents who must endure a growing number of gang- and drug-related crimes.
By next week, residents should see more police on the streets as the city begins to make use of a $468,000 state grant for police overtime. The mayor said the grant will be used for more foot patrols, bike patrols and an overall increase in the police presence in high-crime areas.
The patrols made possible by the grant are another battle in the ongoing fight between the mayor and the police union over the need to increase staffing in the Police Department. Haverhill currently has 86 officers but is budgeted for 92. There are six unfilled positions within the department.
“I will be having serious discussions with both the mayor and City Council in the upcoming budget process about significantly increasing the number of sworn officers we have,” Chief Alan DeNaro said recently. “We’ve gone a long time with very minimal numbers and we need to start augmenting the patrol force.”
Both Fiorentini and DeNaro have in recent years been citing statistics showing crime is down in the city. But the patrolmens union has challenged those statistics, claiming that drug and gang violence are on the rise.
In October, a man was fatally stabbed on High Street and schools sent into lockdown after shots were fired outside a Lafayette Square shopping plaza. In September, a man was beaten into a coma near Lafayette Square. There have been numerous robberies of convenience stores. And last year, four people were shot and two killed in a River Street home invasion.
It is clear that drug and gang-related violence is a problem in Haverhill. Combatting it will take more than just a few more police on the street.
Haverhill’s mayor and police chief must acknowledge that there is more to the problem of crime in Haverhill than the statistics may show. They need to accurately collect and track reports of crime in the city and share that information with the public.
This communication with the public is key. These are matters of life and death, of public safety and well-being. The people must have the truth about conditions in Haverhill, without concern over how that affects the city’s image and reputation.
It is vital to make residents feel they are in a partnership with police in the fight against crime. At a community meeting in the Mount Washington area, residents discussed forming a neighborhood watch. That’s a great way to get residents and police working together.
Deputy police Chief Donald Thompson said police have sent resource officers to speak with teenagers who are at risk of dropping out of school, are working with the city’s code enforcement team to help property owners evict problem tenants, and keeping tabs on residents who have been in trouble with the law.
These are all good first steps. The effort must continue.
Residents of Mount Washington and other Haverhill neighborhood must be able to live their lives without fear of being caught up in the violence and crime perpetrated by a misbegotten few.