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Drugs Main Cause Behind Worcester’s 23 Shootings Per Year

Friday, December 21, 2012

 

While Worcester remains one of the safest cities in New England, it has still been home to an average of 23 shootings per year over the last decade, the majority of which have been drug-related.

From 2002 to 2011, a total of 231 shootings occurred in Worcester, 39 of which were fatal, according to the Worcester Division of Public Health's (WDPH) "Health of Worcester" report and the Worcester Police Department's annual report. Through the first 10 months of 2012, there were 14 nonfatal shootings and five fatal shootings.

"Most of the gunshot wound activity in Worcester has been drug related," said Dr. Michael Hirsh, acting commissioner of WDPH.

"Whether it's home invasions or rival gang activity, rival drug dealer activity, that seems to be the common denominator."

A Multifaceted Approach to Fighting Gun Violence

However, New England's second-largest city has fared markedly better than its fellow cities in the Bay State and beyond when it comes to gun violence.

"Worcester has per capita amongst the lowest penetrating trauma rate of any place in New England and certainly in Massachusetts," said Hirsh.

The reasons for the comparatively low number of shooting incidents are varied and far-reaching, but they start with law enforcement.

"I think the community police and the gang taskforce apprach that Chief Gemme has really fostered puts us out in front of a lot of crime," Hirsh said. "We're on the street and we're not hearing third hand what's going on."

The acting commissioner also noted the work of Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early, Jr. and the local court system, which have been very aggressive in pursuing people who brandish guns and seeking steep sentences.

Buybacks Play an Integral Role

Gun buyback programs have played a role as well. Over the same 10-year period, the City's Goods for Guns buyback program brought in over 2,000 firearms and added another 142 weapons in 2012 for a total of 2,311 guns taken out of homes and off of streets.

Hirsh said that according to the WPD, 80 percent of weapons used in crimes are stolen, so every gun the city buys back is one fewer in the pool of potential firearms for criminals.

"With those not being around, I think a certain number of gunshot wounds get prevented that way," he said. "It's one way of making that a little bit harder."

The weapons that Hirsh and his colleagues have collected are not just the old no-longer-firing relics and handguns that are stereotypically thought of as trading hands at gun buybacks. Goods for Guns gives $50 for a handgun, regardless of its condition, and handguns and semi-automatic long and short gun account for 75 percent of the weapons collected. However, they have also collected over 30 assault weapons, including AK-47s, TEC-9s and Uzis. The owners of those high-powered weapons received just $75 in return, despite the fact that the guns may be worth far more than that.

"We get the feeling that some of the people that are getting rid of these weapons know that the people that actually bought and were saving these weapons were not completely mentally balanced," Hirsh said.

"I don't know whether tragedies like newtown could really be prevented, but I know locally at least we have definitely gotten the feeling from the kind of weapons that we've been retrieving that tragedies have been averted with the kind of weapons that have been brought in."

Knowing Where the Weapons Are

William Breault, chairman of the Main South Alliance for Public Safety, said WPD Chief Gary Gemme's stance on gun permits in the city has been a major factor in keeping the levels of gun violence in Worcester low as well.

Applicants for a license to carry firearms (LTC) must be residents of Worcester, U.S. citizens and at least 21 years of age. They must also submit two letters of recommendation stating they are fit to carry firearms and pay a non-refundable license fee of $100.

"It's tough. That's the way it should be," Breault said. "You can call it gun control or a commonsense way of doing things."

The Main South Alliance for Public Safety previously ran a gun buyback program of its own for eight years, and Breault praised the city's continued efforts on that front.

"The messaging there is important, and it's important to continue that," he said.

The public safety alliance has also focused on increasing public knowledge on the tracking of weapons and mapping where they came from. 

 

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