HOLYOK — After a meeting clashed after a councilman used blasphemous content in his comments, the city council accepted a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to partially fund a two-year program Plans to use gunshot detection technology in Holyoke.
The city council initially rejected funding aimed at reducing gun violence in the city at a September meeting. 1 special meeting, the 9 votes required for passage were not reached. At that meeting, incumbent MP Jose Maldonado-Velez said ShotSpotter’s technology exploited public fear, equating the Holyoke Police Department with an armed gang.
ShotSpotter’s technology pinpoints the location of a shooting, sending notifications within a minute for patrol cars and dispatch services.
Hampden County District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni, Police Chief David Pratt and the patrolmen and supervisors union condemned Maldonado-Vérez’s comments. Maldonado-Velez and MPs Israel Rivera, Jenny Rivera and Juan Anderson-Burgos voted against at the special session.
A few days after September. 1 vote, two were murdered, including in the Highlands community firefight and at the entrance to I-391.
There have been five homicides in Holyoke so far this calendar year.
On Tuesday, Anderson-Burgos changed his vote to “yes” to ensure the appropriation passed. The return of Ward 2 MP Wilmer Puello-Mota changes the balance as he joins the yea column. Ward 4 MP Kocayne Givner did not attend the meeting.
Maldonado-Velez started his speech with several swear words, citing an earlier comment by a resident. Council President Todd McKee warned councillors, but Maldonado-Villez countered that there were no council rules preventing him or anyone from using profanity in the chamber.
“Sometimes these words are the only way, the only words people can use to express themselves or their emotions,” Maldonado-Villez said. “When you use it against someone, and I call someone some kind of blasphemous council member, then, yes, I think that’s disrespectful.”
Maldonado-Velez is okay with subject-related swear words. However, he said he remains staunchly against the ShotSpotter technology, and community members don’t want the technology in their communities.
According to Maldonado-Velez, the community deploying ShotSpotter technology has had slow response times. He believes the technology is a waste of time and money, especially if the police department requires overtime.
“We don’t have the time or ability to start using this technology right now,” he said.
He claims a resident told him it took police an hour to respond to a single shot.
The hard-spoken McKee scolded lawmakers for a lack of etiquette.
“The words we use in this chamber have an impact on the entire community,” he said. “We have to be careful what we say because it does cause harm.”
He praised the efforts of Holyoke police, saying Maldonado-Velez’s comments were viewed differently by others in the community. However, he added that the ShotSpotter issue overshadowed Holyoke’s positive developments over the past few months.
Ward 1 MP Jenny Rivera said she had received hate mail but “did not care” and would vote against the funding.
Several family members are or have worked in law enforcement, Rivera said, and she has long-standing friendships with several Holyoke police officers.
“I’m not at all against the police. I did my research, I talked to the police in Holyoke, Springfield, I know the police in Florida,” she said. “Everyone is telling me the same thing. I heard (ShotSpotter is) invalid. I won’t change my vote.”
Rivera added that she was not afraid to move around any of the wards in the city center.
Ward 6 Assemblyman Juan Anderson-Burgos said he will vote yes so Mayor Joshua A. Garcia will not use federal COVID-19 relief funds for the ShotSpotter pilot program.
Finance committee chairman, MP Joseph McGee Flynn, said there was no room for hateful, negative or racist remarks against MPs. While he respects the position of his colleagues, he does not appreciate the misrepresentation of the committee report by MPs.
“We didn’t just listen to ShotSpotter. We listened, heard, and saw reports from 135 cities with a very high level of accuracy,” McGivelin said. “But that’s not even why I voted for it. At first, I was skeptical.”
McGiverin said the technology improved response times, identifying the number of shots, the caliber used and the number of shooters.
“I didn’t hear anyone this evening saying they were in favor of shooting within the city limits,” he said. “It’s the worst crime we’ve ever committed. There’s no need to shoot within the city limits.”
McGiverin recalled a conversation with his sister, a teacher, about a mother who was unable to bring her young daughter to school because the woman was afraid to open her front door after there was no response after some shots were fired.
“It’s a tool that saves lives, a tool that protects lives, whether they’re in uniform or the mother of a closed child,” he said. “This is my vote to provide public safety to the people who need it, the people I represent, the people I believe in.”
Councillor Tessa Murphy-Romboletti said past and current colleagues had voted against the “grant opportunity”, an avenue she refused to take.
“If we’re going to talk to the public about etiquette, I think we need to look at ourselves,” she said.