Haverhill’s Gang Violence Task Force Met for First Time
Mayor to Fight Gangs with Jobs, Education
Mayor James Fiorentini stressed alternative ideas and strategies for addressing gang activity at the inaugural meeting of his Gang Violence Task Force.
Mayor Fiorentini recently visited the nationally-acclaimed UTEC youth program in Lowell, and plans to take steps to bring a similar model to Haverhill.
UTEC offers jobs and educational opportunities to disconnected youth and those formerly incarcerated. The organization’s “streetworkers” team provides gang peacemaking and intensive outreach in inner city neighborhoods.
Program participants work an average of two years, often after getting out of jail, at UTEC’s onsite café, catering restaurant, furniture-making shop or recycling facility in Lawrence.
“Unless we intend to lock up our young people forever for crimes like selling marijuana, we need to focus more on getting them out of gangs, giving them positive alternatives and addressing gang activity in more creative and comprehensive ways,” Mayor Fiorentini said.
Lowell Deputy Police Superintendent Kelly Richardson said UTEC has been invaluable in defusing gang-related disputes in Lowell.
“When we hear about a problem, we send in UTEC before things escalate and shots are fired,” Deputy Richardson said. “It’s been very successful and we have a great relationship with them.”
Mayor Fiorentini said it has been a challenge getting residents of Haverhill’s inner city neighborhoods to trust police officers.
“The people in the Acre and Mount Washington areas treat police like an occupying army,” Mayor Fiorentini said. “They don’t want to talk to them. We have had shooting victims who literally tell us they didn’t know they were shot.
“I visited UTEC to get some ideas for addressing our gang violence problem that don’t involve police, who will of course always be our No. 1 way of keeping our residents safe,” Mayor Fiorentini said.
Police and school officials as well as representatives from UTEC, Northern Essex Community College, local community groups and business leaders were invited to attend Wednesday’s Gang Task Force meeting, which took place in the Mayor’s Office at City Hall.