Crime rate low in Westfield

WESTFIELD – A review of crime statistics of the city and surrounding communities shows that the Whip City fares better than most of the other cities in the area but the reasons for the difference are harder to define.
Data found at www.city-data.com, a web site which provides a wide variety of data about U.S. cities nationwide, including the incidence of major crimes, shows that, when Westfield’s crime numbers are compared to Agawam, Chicopee, Holyoke, Springfield and West Springfield, only Agawam has better numbers when comparing statistics for 2010, the last year for which data is available on the site.
The web site tracks the incidence of eight categories of crime – murders, rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries, thefts, auto thefts and arson – and amalgamates that data to create a “city-data.com crime index.” Westfield’s crime index of 169.7 is dwarfed by both Holyoke and Springfield – with indexes of 674.9 and 660.5, respectively, and is also less than West Springfield and Chicopee. Only Agawam, with an index of 103.4, has a better crime rate.
While it may not be surprising that the gross number of crimes is larger in the bigger cities, the higher rates of crime may also be partially explained by the nature of the communities.
John F. Kavanagh Jr., a criminal attorney with an office on School Street, said that he believes the difference can be attributed to geography.
Kavanagh said that crime rates are driven by drug crimes which, he said, are more prevalent in high population density urban environments and pointed out that Westfield is more rural than the nearby cities with the higher crime rates.
Raymond W. Zenkert Jr., a Westfield attorney who said his practice includes criminal cases, said that while there is crime in the city, there is not as much violent crime as in other communities.
The data seems to support his opinion as there were, for example, 387.6 assaults reported per 100,000 residents in West Springfield and 369.7 assaults per 100,000 residents in Chicopee while there were only 179 assaults per 100,000 residents reported in the Whip City during the same period.
Zenkert said “You don’t have people here who are afraid to walk the streets of Westfield” and said other cities don’t have the resources to cope with the larger amount of crime they face and must prioritize their efforts.
As a result, Zenkert said, it is often harder to defend clients in the Westfield court than elsewhere because what crimes do occur in the city get more attention in the local court. He said that in other courts the system is so overloaded that some crimes that are prosecuted in Westfield may receive scant attention in other courts.
Thomas A. Kokonowski, a Westfield native practicing criminal law from offices in Northampton and Springfield, said that it is true that there is less crime in Westfield than in surrounding communities and said that the reason is due to the diligent work of the city and state police, combined with effective work of the Westfield District Court.
He said that local and state police have a highly visible presence in the city and said that the staff at the court “all work together as a well oiled machine” under the direction of the presiding justice, Judge Philip A. Contant whom he called “a very fair and firm judge.”
He said “the word gets out” to criminals from both law enforcement and court personnel that persons who commit crimes in the city “do so at their own risk.”
Westfield Police Capt. Michael McCabe, the operational commander of the city’s police, concurs.
McCabe said “The city of Westfield’s patrol force stops lots of cars” and went on to say “that in itself is a deterrent.”
He said “We don’t have the crime so we have the time” and said that the patrol force stops more motorists than other area police departments are able to.
He said that every serial killer in the last 30 years was apprehended in a traffic stop and, even when no crime or fugitive is discovered in a traffic stop, the inconvenience deters unwanted visitors to the city.
“If you’re from another community and you’re not properly licensed, you don’t want to drive in Westfield” he said. “And it’s known” to area miscreants, he added.
But, McCabe said, other programs also increase the effectiveness of the department.
He said the most important factor is “We used our community policing monies as they were supposed to be used” and established neighborhood officers who are responsible for their own areas.
“If the officer is held accountable for a small specific area” he said, “not only will an officer do a better job, he’ll want to do a better job.”
McCabe explained that, in Westfield, a community policing officer has “full time responsibility” for all incidents in his area. Even if they occur when he is not on duty, a community policing officer will investigate all incidents in his neighborhood and is better able to resolve those incidents because he has comprehensive knowledge of the residents of the neighborhoods and their activities.
Similarly, he said, patrol officers are usually assigned to patrol the same sectors of the city so they can “get a pretty good idea of who’s supposed to be where” and can identify “hot spots” in their assigned sectors.
And, he said, when the same officer is responding to repeated calls for service from the same address, the officer is better able to resolve contentious issues and eliminate future calls for the same reason.
McCabe said that crimes occur when three elements – a suitable target, lack of guardianship of the target and a motivated offender – are present and said that if one of those three elements is removed “crime goes away”, except for crimes of passion.
“One of the reasons Westfield is so safe,” he said, is that “we do have guardianship” in the form of the city’s patrol force.

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