Haverhill Neighbor Asks City to Resolve Issues Behind Gang Gun Violence; Police Cite New Challenges

Haverhill Deputy Police Chief Anthony Haugh addresses city councilors as Capt. Stephen J. Doherty Jr. looks on. (WHAV News photograph.)

Councilors last night endorsed a resident’s plan to create an anti-gun violence task force and learned of the police department’s latest challenges, including gangs’ recruitment of juveniles.

Joanna Dix, who conceived of the task force, said she wants to look at issues underlying the gun violence, including economic, social and political disadvantages faced by neighbors in the two city trouble spots.

“I really want a meeting that is data strong. I kind of want to know where we’ve been and where we are now as far as the gun violence in the neighborhoods. Also, I want to really start the discussion about kind of lifting up the people in the Mount Washington neighborhood (and) the lower Acre where the gun violence is happening,” Dix told councilors.

Deputy Police Chief Anthony Haugh said gun crimes are a priority for the police department.

“Let me start by saying that no one in this city—no one in this city—should have to worry about gunshots ringing out with their children playing in their yard, impede their ability to come and go as they please, in a free society,” Haugh said.

He said the gang problem in Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill shows members are transient—whether committing crimes or hiding out. In another city, he noted, three gang members were arrested on a check fraud scheme, demonstrating crimes are becoming more sophisticated.

Problems include witnesses who are afraid to come forward and growing use of juveniles to commit crimes because gang leaders recruit them, knowing they won’t face the adult penalties. “Even the adults know that if they get the juveniles involved in this, they’re not going to face any time. So, this again, is one of the newest challenges we have.”

Haugh asked councilors to contact state legislators, urging them not to consider any reforms that would raise the minimum age of adult criminals from 18 to 21. He said an unintended consequence of such laws would be to let criminals off “scot free.”

Because “we’re not arresting our way out of this,” Haugh explained, he outlined what he called a multi-pronged approach. Every night, police officers work overtime in the mount Washington and Acre neighborhoods. He said the department formed its gang task force 15 months ago which works with the narcotics unit and is aimed at gang leaders, watching other gang members and make arrests as needed. The department is also partnering with state, county, federal and local police departments to put pressure on gangs. In fact, he added, State Police have a desk in Haverhill’s detective unit and two local officers are embedded in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Haugh also introduced UTEC’s Gregg Croteau and Megan Shea who wrote the state Shannon Community Safety Initiative grant.

As WHAV previously reported, the task force has already scheduled a meeting Dec. 5 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., at Somebody Cares New England, 458 Washington St.

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