Robberies top year in crime

WESTFIELD – City police have worked diligently in 2013 and, with their many successes during the year, the thin blue line protecting the city is holding.
The police face a variety of crime, both overt and hidden, much of it driven by heroin addiction, alcohol abuse or simple human frailties.
Much of the crime city police deal with involves larcenies and police report that the vast majority of those crimes are committed by drug addicts who have a never-ending need for cash to supply their habit.
“These B&Es to car, B&Es to houses have underlying issues with drugs,” Capt Hipolito Nunez said.
Det. Sgt. Stephen K. Dickinson agrees. He said that many officers can clearly see the progression that addicts take in their efforts to fund their addictions.
Both officers agree that usually an addict will exhaust his or her own money and then start stealing from family members.
“A lot of them begin with prescription drugs,” he said, “taking them from family members” before they start to buy heroin. When they exhaust their own money, Nunez said, they begin stealing from their relatives both tangible items which can be sold, like jewelry and electronics, and the intangibles that allow for identity theft.
When addicts can no longer steal from their families, they often turn to crimes against others by breaking into cars and houses to take property they can sell to buy drugs.
“B&Es seem to be increasing” Nunez said “but our clearance rate is relatively high.”
2013 saw a large number of break-ins to houses but Dickinson and the detectives under his command were able to clear at least 41 cases since the beginning of the year.
Dickinson said that the investigators found that three teams of burglars – usually an active thief who actually enters residences and a driver who drops him of and picks him up – were responsible for the vast majority of the house breaks.
The common element among the teams of house breakers is that all three were apparently using the proceeds to buy heroin.
Dickinson explained that the vast majority of heroin used in the city is purchased elsewhere, usually in Holyoke, because there are believed to be no large scale heroin dealers in the city.
A narcotics detective has said that, if he had the time, he could park on North Road and watch known addicts drive past on their way to Holyoke and know that, if he waited to see them drive back, he could make a traffic stop and arrest them for possession of the narcotics they had purchased in Holyoke.
Narcotics related crimes are not, of course, confined to Westfield. Southwick has its share of house breaks and in January there was a carefully planned robbery in which two drug addicts apparently conspired to stage a robbery at a gas station where one of the men worked.
Marijuana use in the city does not appear to contribute to the larceny problem in the city in the same way “hard” drugs like heroin do but is nonetheless responsible for serious crime unrelated to the simple possession and use of the weed.
At least two home invasions in 2013 were staged in order to steal marijuana.
A Union Street home was invaded in February by two men (one armed with a gun, the other with a knife) who allegedly stole at least five pounds of marijuana.
In December a thief allegedly arranged to buy an ounce of marijuana from a Brookline Avenue resident, but, after he arrived at the dealer’s home, a confederate produced a pistol and the two men apparently stole all the dealer’s inventory, allegedly a quarter pound of pot, as well as more than $1,000 in cash and a few other opportunistic items.
Other crimes, including armed robberies, may be fueled by a need to pay for drugs but city police have been effective in clearing those cases promptly.
Most of the suspects arrested appear to live outside the city but, in at least one case, the suspects did not even get home with their loot but were arrested before they left the city.
Four young men were arrested in December after callers reported an armed robbery at a Mill Street convenience store in which a handgun, later determined to be a BB gun, was used.
In that case, the reporting parties described the getaway car and an officer monitoring traffic on East Main Street spotted and stopped it there and the four occupants were arrested before they could even leave the city.
But police have not established that those suspects needed money for addictions and detectives report another armed robbery, on Franklin Street, does not appear to be drug-related.
In that case, a female clerk at J.J.s Convenience Store on Franklin Street was menaced with a gun by a robber but the suspect was in custody a week later.
Detectives reported that apparently the man, an unemployed carpenter, used at least part of his ill-gotten gains to pay his family’s rent.
In another case police cleared quickly which may have been linked to a need for cash for heroin, an armed robber hit the Rite Aid drug store on East Silver Street for cash in July but, after he fled to the railroad right-of-way (changing clothes in flight) the suspect was taken into custody by police within minutes.
There was also crime on the streets in Westfield during 2013 and at least some of that can also be linked to drug use.
The most shocking street crime of 2013 was probably a shooting on Birge Avenue at the end of March.
Although the victim initially told police that he and his girlfriend had been out for a walk when they encountered a robber who shot him, Capt. Michael McCabe said at the time, “parts of the story didn’t ring true” and said that investigators found that the participants knew each other prior to the shooting. He said it is more than likely that the victim was shot in a dispute over a narcotics transaction.
Other street violence during the year was more mundane with crimes such as a December incident when a person was robbed at knifepoint for a single cigarette on Elm Street.
In December, robbers tackled a store manager leaving an East Main Street store.
In that case, the robbers apparently knew which pocket to look in for the store’s receipts but somehow did not find the money and took only the manager’s wallet.
Earlier in the year, in June, a person was stabbed on Elm Street after what McCabe described as a “perceived slight” but not all the violence was on the street.
In April, a man had been charged after he allegedly kidnapped his girlfriend, menaced her with a knife, threatened to kill her and then stabbed himself in the stomach.
Numerous arrests and calls for service in residents’ home appear to be fueled by alcohol use and stoked by complications of true love but some crimes in homes are much less savory.
If an award for Worst Dad of the Year were offered, Westfield would probably have at least one nominee.
In September, an Orange Street man was charged after his month-old girl was found to have multiple broken ribs and the ensuing investigation suggested that the man had injured her in attempts to stop her from crying.
The investigators found that in 2002 the man had been charged with assault and battery on a child after his six-week-old baby from a previous relationship was found to have been shaken so badly that the boy was admitted, in critical condition, to a pediatric intensive care unit.
And a 14-year-old girl was apparently used and abused by a city couple when she was allowed to spend a school vacation with them in the basement bedroom they shared at a subsidized apartment where the mother of the female half of the couple lived.
In that case, the prosecuting Assistant District Attorney told the court that the girl had signed an agreement which the girl had described as a “sex slave contract.” The girl said she had been told to sign the document agreeing “not to tell” what the couple had been doing with her
The ADA said that, while the girl was staying with the couple, the man repeatedly raped her orally, digitally and with his penis. She also said that, on at least one occasion, the woman had also penetrated the girl digitally.
In addition, the ADA told the court that the man had made still and video images of the girl and his partner engaged in sexual acts.
She said that the duo also told the girl to smoke “weed” with them although the girl said she had never before smoked marijuana.
Police are also facing crime which, while not new, seems to be more troublesome in recent years.
Det. Todd Edwards of the Detective Bureau’s financial crimes unit deals with many varieties of identity theft and many different fraudulent scams, most delivered over the telephone or Internet and most apparently targeting the elderly.
The identity fraud cases can be very frustrating since the question of jurisdiction (for example when a resident’s credit card is used in a distant state) often complicates his work.
Similarly, offers to share multi-million dollar bequests originating in Nigeria or claims that a victim’s grandson needs bail money in South America can be daunting for Edwards to get to the bottom of.
He said recently that the current scam which residents are reporting is an offer to upgrade television service which can fool a subscriber into sending money to the scammer’s address of convenience and leaves them victimized when they later get delinquency notices from their actual television service provider.
Another category of crime which seems to be increasing this year is the theft of metal which can be sold as scrap at salvage yards.
Aluminum bleachers have been stolen from a city playground and thieves have been so bold that, in one theft in the city, they have stolen copper piping and other parts from the central air conditioning unit at a business while it was open and employees were working.
While the city’s police officers will continue their efforts in 2014 their work may not be particularly obvious but their new vehicles will be very visible.
The city’s department will follow a trend across the Commonwealth (and nation) and replace the no longer available Ford Crown Victorias with Ford Explorer SUVs.
Lt. Lawrence Valliere, the commander of the department’s Traffic and Safety Bureau, explained that the change is being made because the all-wheel drive Explorer is a safer and more versatile vehicle, particularly in the winter time, and added “there’s not a lot of options out there” to be used as police cruisers.
The Westfield police cruiser fleet currently has seven SUVs and Chief John Camerota told the police commission “They’re doing everything we hoped they would. They’re an excellent vehicle.” He told the commission that the department hopes to progressively replace the remaining five police cruisers as funds become available.
Nunez said that the officers like the new vehicles and it is more efficient for them because “the vehicle is basically their office.”

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