HOLYOKE — Holyoke Mayor Joshua A. Garcia released a new $1 million comprehensive public safety initiative Monday that aims to strike a balance in preserving residents’ quality of life and effective law enforcement.
“Enforcement and compassion, go hand in hand, but it needs balance,” Garcia said.
Garcia told reporters that a shooting on Oct. 4 that claimed the life of a newborn baby boy has made him push harder on law enforcement and accountability. Ezekiel’s Plan — also called Operation Safe Streets — includes city departments and multiple local, state and federal agencies working together to reduce violent crime and improve the well-being of residents, business owners and visitors to Holyoke.
The baby’s mother, Selena Santana, was eight months pregnant, when she and her baby were struck by bullets during a gunfight on Maple and Sargeant streets as their Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus passed by. The safety plan is named after the baby, Ezekiel, who died after delivery. Two men were arrested in the incident, and a third is still at-large.
Garcia said he is trying to ensure that no one in Holyoke will ever have to go through this experience again. Residents should be safe to ride public transportation, he said.
The new plan will be formally introduced at a special City Council meeting that will take place in November.
The plan will include hiring 13 additional foot and bike patrol police officers, the installation of a citywide surveillance camera system, increased property inspections, creating a homeless liaison position, tenant and neighborhood protections, and a new community response division to be appointed by Garcia.
The new community response division will aid residents with housing and neighborhood issues, and address quality-of-life concerns, he said.
The city will use this as an opportunity to educate residents about tenant rights, Garcia said.
While the plan is heavy on law enforcement, Garcia said it also aims to implement strategies to help resolve problems that often lead to or attract illegal activity, violence and homelessness, he said.
“If we think of where crime takes place, there are also quality of life challenges that occur in the same areas. Issues of blight, overgrowth and graffiti can attract criminal activity,” Garcia told The Republican.
Garcia stressed that the plan “is not aimed at, or is it intended to, step on the constitutional rights of any citizen.”
“This operation is designed to address the problems associated with drug trafficking and associated violence throughout the city, as well as to improve housing and neighborhood conditions,” he said.
Garcia told reporters that this public safety plan is a proactive approach, rather than reactionary.
“As mayor, I have an obligation to address issues such as violence, illegal activity, and health and safety disparities that have a negative impact on neighborhoods. … But that commitment to compassion and social justice must be balanced against our responsibility to provide for the safety and well-being of all our citizens.”
The city has worked with the Flex Squad, which includes the Board of Health, the building, fire and police departments, going block-to-block and encouraging building owners to take better care of their property, Garcia said.
In addition, the city also will be taking care of public nuisances, like burned-out streetlights, he said.
Until the federal and state government work together to resolve issues of gun violence, opioids, the housing crisis and the skills gap, as a mayor, Garcia said he can only scratch the surface of these social problems.
In the meantime, he hopes residents will take comfort in knowing that he is doing everything in his power to take seriously the issues that concern their everyday lives.
The Hampden County Sheriff’s Office has allocated a number of deputies in both marked and unmarked cruisers to support Ezekiel’s Plan.
The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department already operates the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative, which works with school-age children, year-round, and the Hampden County Addiction Task Force, which conducts overdose outreach in the city in conjunction with the Hampden District Attorney’s Office.
A number of deputies will be on the streets assisting with warrants and apprehension, proactive patrols and initiating arrests as needed, said Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi.
“We will continue to assist the Holyoke police with both proactive and reactive capacities, in addition to our full-time deputies assigned to specific duties in the Paper City and on task forces working throughout the region,” said Cocchi.
Funding for Ezekiel’s Plan would be drawn from a range of sources, including the American Rescue Plan Act, the city’s capital stabilization fund, opioid settlement money and other local appropriations.
Reporter Jim Kinney contributed to this article.