New Bedford reaches 8 homicides in 2017

New Bedford Police are currently investigating the city’s seventh and eighth homicides of 2017, which concerns at least one city councilor. (WJAR)

New Bedford City Councilor Brian Gomes said leaders need to make more of an effort to curb violence in the city.

“We’re dealing with gang members, drug dealers and those involved in crime all the time,” Gomes said.

Police are currently investigating the city’s seventh and eighth homicides of the year. In comparison, Providence has had five homicides in 2017. New Bedford had three homicides in 2016.

“We need to go zero tolerance, neighborhood by neighborhood, and clean it up,” Gomes said.

A majority of the homicides occurred in the city’s North End. Three people were fatally stabbed and five were shot to death. The average age of the victims is 30 years old.

Gomes, who is also the vice-chair of the Committee on Public Safety, said he called for a safety summit over the summer, but suspended the request due to lack of support from other agencies, though he would not specify which ones.

“I think some people are in denial, actually,” Gomes said.

Debora Coelho, who is the chair of the Committee on Public Safety, said she has had several meetings with police and fire representatives during the last several months.

“We came to a resolution that, at this time, they assured us that the city was safe and they were doing everything they could within their jurisdiction to move forward on that,” Coelho said. “I’m really not hearing from my constituents that we need this public safety summit.”

Coehlo said a lot of work has been done by undercover police detectives to reduce crime in the area and said “drug deals gone bad” have caused some of the violence.

“We need to take every neighborhood, every six blocks, find out what it needs and build on that,” Gomes said.

While law enforcement and city leaders work with the court system to get criminals off the streets, other community members are trying to send powerful messages.

Hewitt Joyner is the Director of Youth Violence Prevention and Reduction Initiatives at United Way of Greater New Bedford. He also works with a group of individuals at 10 New Bedford schools to help at-risk youth.

“If you’re gang-involved, your consequences are either death or prison,” Joyner said. “Most kids don’t know that. When we’re having these conversations at school, we can prevent these things from happening.”

Rev. David Lima, who is the executive minister at the Inter-Church Council, said compassion also goes a long way.

“Caring about one another, that’s the major thing,” he said.

Lima, along with other organizations, takes walks in the community in hopes to connect with people and foster trusting, honest relationships.

“We’ll go and engage groups of kids, groups of people in the park, in a development,” he said. “It’s that sense of community and sense of belonging that can give people a better sense of safety and security.”

Meanwhile, Gomes said he hopes a public safety summit is possible in the future.

“Swift action. Get out in the neighborhoods. Give the people some hope,” he said. “There is some hope for a better tomorrow.”

New Bedford Police would not comment on a plan of action, but said there are increased patrols in high-crime areas.

Coelho said as of Wednesday, there is also a new commander at the police department’s North End station.

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