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Ray Mariano: Recent Worcester Murders Should Cause Alarm

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Ray Mariano: Recent Worcester Murders Should Cause Alarm

It’s been a tough spring.

There is natural beauty that emerges each spring as the Earth awakens from its winter slumber. But spring is also a time for bad guys to return to the streets. This year, in Worcester, that means guns, knives and murder.

In just over two months, from mid-February to late April, Worcester experienced eight violent crimes (seven separate shootings and one stabbing) that left six people dead and five others injured. So far 11 different people have been arrested. In the most shocking of these crimes, a mother and her 11-year-old daughter were ambushed and murdered in a quiet neighborhood in broad daylight.

Look at it in context. In just a few months this year, Worcester has already matched the number of fatal shootings and stabbings that occurred in all of 2023.

Like I said, it’s been a tough spring.

The recent shootings may well be part of a disturbing trend in the city. Comparing 2022 to 2023, while murders decreased, police crime statistics show an increase in reported shootings, non-fatal shootings, and non-fatal shooting victims. Last year, the city averaged more than two shots per day (736).

The city’s response

Well, let’s put aside the protests of city officials. Yes, Mr. Mayor, it is true that Worcester’s murder rate and crime statistics are lower than what you experience in Fall River, Holyoke, or Brockton. Sure, but that’s probably what they say in Juarez, Mexico.

And yes, Mr. City Manager, Worcester is certainly safer than Chicago and St. Louis. But that doesn’t mean Worcester is a safe place. It just means Worcester isn’t as bad as other places.

In the past, when Worcester experienced a series of deadly crimes, officials often resorted to the “we’re not Fall River, Holyoke or Brockton” defense. And then, of course, there are the meaningless “thoughts and prayers” they send to the families of the victims. But city officials did little else to allow the number of police officers to drop well below the number authorized to be on city streets because, well, we’re not Fall River, Holyoke or Brockton.

But this time things seem to be different. Well aware of the rising level of gun violence in the city, acting Police Chief Paul Saucier had already begun planning to establish a special unit focused on gun crimes.

According to a statement that accompanied the announcement of the new unit, the Crime and Gun Intelligence Unit will prioritize pursuing “the most dangerous individuals… including repeat firearms offenders.” Saucier said he estimates that most gun crimes involve only a small number of offenders: “less than 10 people pulling the trigger.” To illustrate his point, Saucier said that last year the city confiscated three guns that were involved in 21 shootings.

According to the chief, the unit’s job is to find and seize illegal weapons and then prepare cases against the criminals who use them. Saucier expects the unit to collect evidence, coordinate with state police and ATF, and conduct thorough investigations leading to successful prosecution by the District Attorney and U.S. Attorney. Unlike patrol officers, the people assigned to this unit will not be pulled aside to answer other calls: they will remain focused on the weapons and criminals they have strapped to them.

Just days after its establishment, on April 15, CGIU detectives recovered their first illegal firearm. In response to a ShotSpotter activation on Channing Street, detectives conducted a traffic stop to stop a vehicle with a tinted license plate, which is illegal. With the license plate number now visible, detectives recognized the license plate number as the one they were looking for in another ShotSpotter activation on March 19. They discovered a Glock 42 capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. A 19-year-old man was arrested on a series of weapons charges.

I like the new unit’s approach and Saucier deserves considerable credit for anticipating the problem and then acting quickly. But Worcester needs to do more. The city currently has too many vacancies (63) on police department rosters. Without police on duty, the city and its residents remain vulnerable. City officials must graduate the current recruit class and authorize a new class immediately. Upcoming retirements from the force will only make matters worse. Not filling vacant positions is an illegal act.

And although it’s a small thing, the police should start stopping cars with tinted license plates. There is only one reason to make it difficult to identify a license plate and it needs to stop.

Crime in Worcester is not out of control. And it is certainly true that several cities are in much worse condition. But a rising level of violent crime in Worcester should catch everyone’s attention. Saucier has taken a step in the right direction. But the city needs to do more.

Worcester officials like to brag about all the new investments and developments happening in the city. And there is certainly a lot to brag about. But all the big, beautiful buildings in the world won’t allay the fear residents and visitors feel if they’re afraid to walk down their neighborhood streets, sit on their front steps, or visit a local restaurant or bar.

Worcester shouldn’t wait until it becomes as bad as Fall River, Holyoke or Brockton to act.

Email Raymond V. Mariano at rmaiano.telegram@gmail.com. He served four terms as Worcester’s mayor and previously served on the City Council and School Committee. He grew up in the Great Brook Valley and has degrees from Worcester State College and Clark University. He most recently served as executive director of the Worcester Housing Authority. His column appears weekly in the Sunday Telegram. Their endorsements do not necessarily reflect the position of Telegram & Gazette.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Ray Mariano on the recent murders in Worcester and the need for more police

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