By Scott J. Croteau
The Telegram & Gazette
WORCESTER, Mass. — People want to see results for their money.
City Manager Michael V. O'Brien said the city cash used to pay for the Police Department's summer impact unit has shown the type of results that justifies the expense.
Started in 2005 after violent crime reached dangerous levels the year before, the summer impact unit puts more officers on the streets in July and August, which are typically active months for police.
Statistics distributed Thursday by police show that, for those two months, arrests have increased from year to year, while shooting incidents have decreased since 2004.
"When you look at the return on investment, clearly this community benefits and you can't put a price tag on the benefits of a safe community," Mr. O'Brien said Thursday in a Police Department conference room.
The price tag for the summer impact program for each year was: $199,000 for eight weeks in 2005; $227,000 for 10 weeks in 2006; and $330,000 for 10 weeks this year, with a state grant extending the number of days per week from four to five.
"I believe that the $330,000 investment is a small investment to keep our community safe and not have the same type of problems that wehad in 2004," Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said.
An added 18 officers hit the streets from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. - peak hours. Officers hit hot spots revealed by the Crime analysis unit's review of criminal activity. They give added attention to areas of gun violence and the individuals committing those crimes, as well as victims with questionable backgrounds.
The additional officers don't go into neighborhoods and look for people of a certain ethnic group or those wearing particular clothing,the chief said, noting that policing of that kind would lose community support.
A review of the statistics shows eight shooting incidents with 11 victims from July 1 to the end of August in 2004. In 2005, there were eight shootings and eight victims over the same
period. In 2006 and this year, the numbers were three and three. The statistics did not include homicides.
Other major New England cities have more shootings, Chief Gemme said. From Jan. 1 to July 28, Hartford had 86 shootings with 91 victims and 17 homicides, compared to Worcester's 15 shootings with 18 victims and three homicides.
The summer impact unit almost became a causality of budget cuts, but was saved .
"This program should never go away," said City Councilor-at-Large Joseph M. Petty, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee. "It should be a model for other communities. This is a program that shows taxpayers results."
The summer impact program continues the chief's commitment to community-based programs that address quality-of-life issues, Mr. Petty said.
A low crime rate also helps improve the tone for economic development for the city, Mr. O'Brien added. Developers look at crime statistics, he said.
"The statistics speak for themselves," the manager said. "It is incredible work that's being done."
Copyright 2007 Telegram & Gazette
Mass. special unit making an impact