It is Saturday night at Springfield College. Students are at parties, spending time with their friends, or just simply doing whatever it is that they enjoy. But then, the mood on campus darkens as conversation shifts to the murder that happened moments ago at the intersection of King Street and Walnut Street, less than a mile from campus. Now, everyone is concerned about gang violence.
Gang violence. It is a terse terminology with a deep effect that has become connected with many cities, including Springfield, Mass. The term gets thrown around so often that it feels as if it has lost its meaning, but why? There is not an ominous feeling walking around the Springfield College campus, and it certainly isn’t any more dangerous than any other typical city college campus. So, why is the city of Springfield being highlighted by 60 Minutes, NPR and the New York Times? Why is the mayor of the city going public with his proclamations of how crime will be stopped? Is Springfield College and the city it resides in really that dangerous?
The “facts” behind the overall safety level can be confusing, as there is no continuity from one source to the next. For the city itself, Springfield was the 12th-most dangerous city in the United States in 2011, according to a Business Insider report. However, the city has yet to be seen in the top 25 of the online publication’s weekly report in subsequent years. According to Neighborhood Scout, Springfield is now 77th in the nation, an improvement from its ranking of No. 38 in 2012.
The numbers for the overall safety of Springfield College also lack any similarity from one source to the next. According to The Daily Beast, Springfield College was the 17th-most dangerous institution in the U.S. in 2009. On the other hand, StateUniversity.com put Springfield College 65th in Massachusetts and 1020th in the U.S. in their Safe School Index.
So, which source should be believed? With so many numbers being thrown around and the effects of said numbers having varying results on where the school and city rank on safety lists, what is the most reputable source? How dangerous is Springfield?
The fact of the matter is that safety is subjective. While numbers are real and can speak volumes, how safe or unsafe a place is can vary based on who is being asked.
The brunt of recent concern comes from a 60 Minutes’ report that aired on Sunday, May 6 and discussed gang violence in the city and how it was being stopped. The vast majority highlighted the C3 (Counter Criminal Continuum) policing initiative, which, according to the Website of C3 Policing and the Mass. State Police Special Projects Team, is described as “an adapted law enforcement method targeting gangs and drug dealers within urban high crime areas. The mission is to detect, deter, degrade and dismantle criminal gangs and drug dealers.” The system was created and implemented in the city by Massachusetts state trooper Michael M. Cutone, and while the ending of the 60 Minutes’ segment was hopeful, bringing Springfield’s crime to the forefront was both disconcerting and unsettling to those with ties to the city, as well as the past, present and future Springfield College community.
Starting with the city of Springfield, the current C3 system that has been enforced in the crime-ridden North End of Springfield has shown to bring crime down, and as a result has been highlighted on major national news sources. Springfield College Criminal Justice Professor Gary Berte, however, is not sure that implementing the system throughout the city will work.
“If we use militaristic style tactics to go after civilian criminals, we’re in trouble,” Berte said. “Tactically it may work, but [gangs] mutate and go elsewhere and then come back…Displacement is real. They may talk about stopping it, but they may just be moving it.”
According to Berte, absentee landlords are another critical problem leading to crime. Many housing buildings do not have a landlord present, and the building is simply an investment to them. As a result, they do not know who is living there, which enables gangs to run rampant.
As the murder rate in the city continues to climb, with the current tally sitting at 16 thus far in 2013, already topping the 2012 count of 12, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is attempting to put his foot down.
“The full force of public safety officials will now be rendered. You want to run and be a gang-banger…Police and authorities will be in your face,” Sarno said in a public statement taken from MassLive.com.
Sarno has a vision on how to put the senseless murders to a stop. “We have to fight fire with fire…These senseless killings have to stop and they will stop with the force of the police,” he said.
A common misconception is that gang members frequently plan murders.
“Murders occur because gangs have vendettas,” Berte said. “Gang members don’t usually go looking for each other, but if they do run into each other, it’s like colonial times; it’s whoever is quickest to the draw.”
This is where Springfield College and its safety come into play. Despite known gang activity on King Street and Eastern Avenue, Judy Jackson, the chief of police at Springfield College, is not overly alarmed.
“Springfield is not any more dangerous than other cities; you just have to be smart,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t matter where you live…you have to use common sense.”
Moreover, it is a common mistake for those who do not know better or are not accustomed to the area to believe that because a city or neighborhood is well-known for crime that each resident is a criminal.
“These are hard-working people in this neighborhood. They are just trying to make ends meet,” Jackson said. “They don’t bother anybody. Nine times out of 10, it is our students who host parties and do the stuff over on King Street that create the problems for the neighbors.”
In addition, gang activity has not had a history of stretching onto campus, and for a simple reason.
“They aren’t interested in us. In fact they like the students because they make things easier for them by buying their drug,” Berte said. “If our students aren’t gang members, they’ll be fine.”
Furthermore, the school has taken multiple measures to ensure that the campus is safe. Architecturally speaking, more lighting was constructed along Alden Street and the arch that was recently erected upon entering campus notifies individuals that they are entering a campus zone. Also, the school offers a 24-hour security escort that allows students to call Public Safety any time of day or night and have an officer escort them to where they need to go. Public Safety makes a point of putting on regular seminars and information sessions to keep students informed and safe.
This is not to say that the college has completely avoided danger. In April of 1989, Springfield College football captain Eric Palmer was fatally stabbed in downtown Springfield by gang member Charles Fryar Jr., who was convicted of first-degree murder on April 3, 1990, according to MassCases.com as well as other reports. Though this event happened off-campus, it still had vast effects on the college community.
As a result of this, off-campus socializing remains an area of occasional concern at parties involving Springfield students and members of the Springfield community
All of the recent concern mixed in with the implementation of a new Springfield College president in Mary-Beth Cooper has again brought the debate back into the spotlight on campus as to whether or not campus police officers should be armed. As reported in The Student on Feb. 21 of this year, the arming of police officers has been approved, but the implementation has not been completed. The officers are trained and capable of using firearms, but they remain locked up in the Public Safety building for the time being.
The simplest way to put it is that, in regards to being on the campus of Springfield College, crime is what one allows it to be. If the students make responsible choices on and near campus, then more likely than not, their time at Springfield College will be a safe one.
It is unfortunate, but true, that crime has become connected with cities like Springfield. Both Berte and Jackson agree that Springfield is no worse than any other city, and that the bottom line is being smart. People have every reason to be concerned when Springfield makes national headlines for its crime, but one thing that cannot be forgotten is that it is being highlighted for how that crime is being stopped. No one really knows if high crime will ever make its way out of Springfield, but for Springfield College students, staying smart is the best way to keep staying as safe as possible.
Logan Mullen can be reached at email@example.com