New Hampden County DA Mark Mastroianni has decided that state police will handle murder cases in the city of Springfield for the immediate future, Patrick Johnson reports in today’s Springfield Republican.
Under the temporary policy, detectives from the state police will oversee the investigation of any murders that take place in the city during the month of April—a move, the DA said, that will allow city police to catch up on existing murder investigations. There were 16 murders in the city in 2010, and four so far this year. According to Johnson, arrests have been made in 11 of last year’s cases, and in two of this year’s.
SPD spokesman Sgt. John Delaney told the Republican than the city’s homicide arrest rate over the past five years has been about 80 percent, compared to a national average of 60 percent.
Mastroianni took care to present the change as a way to support the SPD, not a criticism of the department’s work. “Springfield police do an outstanding job, a really great job. There’s no way, shape or form you could view this a punitive,” he told the Republican.
That might be some wishful thinking on the DA's part. Some in the city will, no doubt, take the move as an insult of the local police, or a usurpation of their authority. In response to the news, Police Commissioner William Fitchet—in keeping with his generally low-key, unruffled public demeanor—issued a short, neutral statement: “I was informed by the district attorney of his desire to change the method of investigations for homicides in Springfield for the month of April. The Springfield police will comply with his request.”
The commissioner did add some words of praise for his officers, saying, “I am proud of the clearance rate by arrest of the homicide squad.”
This isn't the first time the state police have assisted the SPD under special programs. In recent years, a special state unit, called the Community Action Team, has periodically worked with Springfield cops in high-crime areas of the city.
The DA’s decision to have the state detectives oversee local murder cases will, no doubt, result in some political fallout, positive or negative. During his campaign last year, Mastroianni emphasized his contention that political considerations should not factor into a district attorney’s decisions. “I just so hope I never get to the point where I care if I’m going to lose a vote because of a certain opinion,” he told the Advocate in an interview last fall.
The best of all possible outcomes, of course? That the city won't see any murders in April, making any potential turf battles over their investigations moot.