HOLYOKE — Along with some of the city’s top law enforcement officials on Wednesday, Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia said he was proud to have grown up in a community “where people can find a new hope and new opportunities when they are unlucky”.
“What I will not tolerate, however, is the extent of the drug trade that is taking place in our community,” Garcia said.
Garcia, Police Chief David Pratt and other senior Holyoke Police Department officers gathered for a press conference outside the cream-colored brick apartment buildings at 296 and 298 Elm St. The buildings, they said, became the center of drug trafficking and the violence and intimidation that comes with it.
City police have for years called the buildings and the area a “hot spot” for drugs and gang activity. And through a partnership with the Massachusetts State Police, Pratt said the police intend to increase their visibility in the area.
Police and the mayor held the press conference on Wednesday to respond to recent reports of drug trafficking and violence in the city. These include, just this month, a handful of recent arrests made at the building for possession and distribution of drugs. Just over a year ago, a 15-year-old boy was shot dead on the street corner at the intersection of Walnut and Sargeant streets.
Holyoke Police Department Capt. Matthew Moriarty said a recent months-long wiretap, with the help of residents and landlords, resulted in “numerous arrests” at the building at 298 Elm St. , where he said police seized weapons and drugs. . Elsewhere in the city recently, vehicles were shot down on Bower Street and police say there was an “exchange of gunfire” in the alley behind 136 Sargeant St.
“It’s an ongoing battle, yes, to fight these drug dealers,” Moriarty said. “We are here to help people in need, but when someone decides…they want to push this kind of poison to our residents, to engage with these residents and the children of this neighborhood, we will go to all extremes to end this.”
Wednesday’s message largely focused on cooperation between city hall, the police department, federal and state law enforcement, residents and local property owners to combat drug trafficking.
“We’re bringing everyone in,” Moriarty said, urging townspeople to use the department’s anonymous “text-a-tip” system to give police information. This included the owners of the building, Arthur and Carrie Naatz, who were present at the event and spoke about cooperating with the police to secure the area.
Pratt and Garcia also talked about other “comprehensive” resources they say are available for residents who need help.
“We have programs for addictions, we have programs for mental health, we have programs for youth at risk, we have programs for citizens who return to our community and who may have spent time in our correctional system,” Pratt said. “For the people who are just going to try to poison our neighborhoods and are involved in gang violence – gun violence in particular – we in the police department are going to do what we have to do to take care of those people as well. through the criminal justice system.”
Speaking after the press conference, Garcia said Holyoke is a “compassionate community” and the priority is to get resources for people, whether they are people struggling with addiction or people “stuck in the web” of illegal activities and wanting to get out of it. However, for those who “spill this poison onto our streets”, he said there was no place for them in the city.
Garcia – the first-ever Hispanic mayor of a city where more than half the residents identify as Hispanic or Latino – said that during his campaign last year, he focused his door-to-door efforts in the majority of Hispanic neighborhoods 1 and 2.
“Their concerns were not fear of the police and police brutality,” he said. “They were like, ‘Where are the police?'”
Garcia said his administration is taking steps to get absentee owners to work with the city to resolve the issue, and that as someone born and raised in Holyoke, he understands this is a complex issue. which must be approached from several angles.
Dusty Christensen can be contacted at [email protected]