05/21/2006

Mass. police share $175K grant; Anti-gang funds go to 3 cities

By Matthew Bruun
Telegram & Gazette Staff
Copyright 2006 Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Inc.

The police departments in Fitchburg, Leominster and Gardner will share a state grant for $175,000 to combat gang violence, officials announced yesterday.

The grant was awarded through the state Executive Office of Public Safety's Sen. Charles E. Shannon Jr. Community Safety Initiative. The announcement of the grant was made in a joint statement by state Sen. Robert A. Antonioni, D-Leominster, state Rep. Jennifer L. Flanagan, D-Leominster, state Rep. Emile J. Goguen, D-Fitchburg, state Rep. Robert L. Rice Jr., D-Gardner, and the chiefs of police from the three cities.

"This initiative is to support regional multidisciplinary approaches to combat gang violence through coordinated programs for prevention and intervention by the use of anti-gang task forces, crime mapping, focused prosecution efforts, and programs aimed at successful reintegration of released prisoners," the joint statement reads.

The program was included in legislation to strengthen existing criminal statutes and creates new offenses related to witness intimidation and gang violence.
"The bill also creates our state's first-ever witness protection program, which will work to assist the efforts of our law enforcement community in protecting the safety of witnesses and their families," the joint statement said.

Mr. Shannon, a former Winchester police officer, died last year. He was a friend and colleague of Mr. Antonioni's for many years, according to the Leominster senator's office.

"The Fitchburg Police Department is encouraged by this funding for anti-gang initiatives in North Central Massachusetts," Fitchburg Police Chief Edward F. Cronin said in a prepared statement. "These funds will help to address the problems of at-risk youth and gang membership and recruitment in a comprehensive model that emphasizes enforcement, intervention and prevention.

"We are grateful to our partners at the Leominster and Gardner Police Departments and the efforts of the Spanish American Center whose collaboration and extra efforts made this initiative happen," Chief Cronin said.

"I am very pleased that the state has provided us with funding," Leominster Police Chief Peter F. Roddy said in a prepared statement. "This provides us with a great opportunity to combat gang violence regionally."

The chiefs were out of town at a conference yesterday and not available for further comment on their plans for the grant funds.

"This grant is a huge victory for Leominster, Gardner and Fitchburg," Mr. Antonioni said in a prepared statement. "Gang activity has been on the rise in our area and these resources will significantly help our local police develop promising new strategies to put an end to the recent violence on our streets."

The grant program has been popular across the state, leading to competition for the funds, he added.

"Funding provided through this grant will go a long way toward addressing the influx of gang activity in the Leominster, Fitchburg, and Gardner area," Ms. Flanagan said in a statement. "This is yet again an example of how we are working together for the safety of our neighborhoods."

Mr. Rice and Mr. Goguen also expressed their appreciation for the cooperative efforts from police and officials in the three cities that will share in the grant.

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