Chief: Police Have Long-term Plan to Reduce Gangs’ Grip on Haverhill

Haverhill Police Chief Alan R. DeNaro at the podium in 2017 while Capt. Stephen J. Doherty Jr. listens at left. (WHAV News file photograph.)

One night after city councilors supported adding as many as six officers to the police force, Chief Alan R. DeNaro (pictured) appeared in front of the council to report on his department’s efforts to bring the killers in two cases to justice.

DeNaro said a suspect has been arrested in one of the two murders and will go on trial, but an investigation into the other killing is not yet complete.

“All the suspects in these homicides will be brought to justice,” he said.

The two murders occurred in a time span of less than two weeks. During the same period, a shooting was reported on Comeau Bridge.

Jeffrey Larkin, 40, was shot on Sunday, May 6, on Emerson Street, and succumbed to his injuries. DeNaro said the crime is not believed to be gang-related. It was the first murder of the year in the city.

On Thursday, May 17, a 20-year-old Haverhill resident, Nike Colon, was killed in a drive-by shooting on High Street that police say was gang-related. Two weeks later, 27-year-old Eddy Almonte of Haverhill was arrested in Winchester, Va., and charged with Colon’s murder.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini said he will provide whatever resources he is able in order to curtail gang activity in the city.

“We will not tolerate this kind of activity in our town,” Fiorentini said.

DeNaro said he is optimistic that with the tools he’s being given, police will be able to make progress in curtailing gang activity, but said it will take three to six years to see noticeable progress.

With a federal grant of more than $600,000, the city plans to contract with UTEC, a Lowell-based anti-gang program. Police have plans for outreach to middle school students, who are in the age group targeted by gang members for recruiting and indoctrination into gang culture, DeNaro said.

“I don’t think there’s anybody up here, including the mayor, who doesn’t think we need more officers,” DeNaro said. “Would our job be easier if we had 35 more guys? Of course it would. But we’re not going to get 35 more guys.”

With the year not even half over, police already have responded to as many murders as happened in all of 2017, DeNaro said.

Of 52 shots-fired calls, two involved homicides. One resulted in arrest within 24 hours, the second remains under investigation.

The majority of calls -- 37 -- were classified as unfounded, meaning they could have been cars backfiring or other loud noises that mimic gunfire.

Ten were listed as gang-related complaints. In nine of the 10 gang disputes, no victims or witnesses would come forward with information. The lack of cooperation with police in gang-related crimes is a serious impediment to police solving the cases, DeNaro said.

The other reports included a man hunting on Plug Pond and a bullet striking a house. The duck hunter was arrested.

DeNaro said he has already begun to form an anti-gang unit, promoting a lieutenant and interviewing officers, three of whom will be transferred from other duties.

Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan asked that no reductions be made in the area of traffic safety and enforcement.

DeNaro said there is no plan to cut traffic patrols.

“As part of the budget process, the mayor has allowed us to replace one of our motorcycles, which will allow us to hire officers to perform spot radar enforcement in trouble spots in the city,” DeNaro said.

After the discussion, councilors approved a $29,857 transfer for security cameras to be installed at the intersections of Portland and White streets and Emerson at Welcome streets.