Most crime in Westfield driven by drug use

Photo credit: The Westfield News
Bundles of heroin packets, a large amount of cash and paraphernalia were seized when a pair of alleged heroin retailers were arrested in March. (Photo by The Westfield News/Carl E. Hartdegen)
Bundles of heroin packets, a large amount of cash and paraphernalia were seized when a pair of alleged heroin retailers were arrested in March. (Photo by The Westfield News/Carl E. Hartdegen)

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – The Whip City has historically enjoyed a relatively low crime rate and 2014 was not an exception to that rule. Fortunately, Det. Lt. David Ragazzini said, there were no homicides in the city in 2014. He said the bulk of the crime in the city is driven, as usual, by the needs of narcotics addicts.

Although he said he has not “done the math”, he said he believes the number of crimes in the city “tied pretty directly to drugs” is “in the 90th percentile.” He said that the vast majority of house breaks, larcenies, shopliftings, frauds and other crimes against property are committed by addicts who have no legal ways to fund their addictions.

Since their addictions will not be denied, addicts will often steal to support their habits. They frequently start stealing from family members and may start with cash and jewelry and often progress to blank checks, which are forged and cashed, or credit cards which are misused.

When family members learn to protect their property from their addicted loved ones, addicts may start shoplifting from stores or may break into cars and houses to steal valuables which can be converted to cash or even directly to heroin, if a dealer is cooperative.

Det. Sgt. Stephen K. Dickinson has said that heroin is not retailed in the city and the vast majority of the drug used in the city is purchased in Holyoke or Springfield. He explained that many addicts will travel to Holyoke and purchase as much heroin as they can finance and any surplus may then be sold to other users.

There are exceptions which prove the rule but city police have apparently been effective in shutting down retail operations. In February, detectives began to hear of a couple living at a Franklin Street motel who was retailing heroin in the city and, once they established a case, police raided their operation in March. Seized were about 300 bags of heroin packaged for sale and more than $1,000 in cash.

Unlike the more commonplace vendors of small amounts of heroin, there were no indications that the Franklin Street heroin vendors were using the product they sold, police reported.

Another retail operation was shut down in December when a warrant was executed at the home of a known heroin addict and 160 bags of heroin were seized. In that case, the suspect admitted to police that he had been selling heroin to support his own addiction.

Although, heroin may the most common impetus for crime, it is not the only addictive substance that drives crime.

A person who stole thousands of dollars from an elderly relative he was ostensibly caring for in 2012 had reportedly used the money to support his addictions to crack cocaine and alcohol. Sentenced to concurrent 18-month terms in the house of correction, he was released without restrictions in 2013 and was soon again living with his 89-year-old great-aunt.

Early in March, 2014, he pleaded guilty to again stealing from the woman and was sentenced to 12 more, concurrent, 18 month terms.

Although marijuana use has been decriminalized, police are still targeting sellers of the drug and city police had a spectacular success in October when they executed a warrant at a Shepard Street address. The raid resulted in the seizure of more than a million dollars in cash and more than 100 pounds of the weed which had been concealed in an Agawam storage facility.
Of course, not all crime in the city is related to drug use.

Some crimes are driven by passion, poor judgment or common greed.

In January, a woman was arrested after she attempted to pay her bar bill at a downtown restaurant with a credit card she had allegedly stolen from the bartender who served her. The man had left his wallet in his coat when he hung it up and the woman apparently rifled the jacket and stole the credit card when she hung up her own coat.

Also in January, a resident was charged with animal cruelty after she reportedly poured bleach on her boyfriend’s dog which had been a bone of contention between the couple. The dog had been crated when she poured the bleach and was left in the puddle of bleach all day. The dog eventually recovered partial sight in one of his eyes. The woman is scheduled to appear in Westfield District Court for a jury trial in March.

In February, no charges were filed after a Tow Path Lane resident complained of a couple who were cavorting outside while naked. The investigating officer substantiated the complaint and found that alcohol was involved.

At Easter time, five city residents found severed rabbit heads in their mailboxes. When city detectives unraveled that mystery, they found that a pair of young men who were delivery contractors for a Springfield newspaper had thought it would be funny to leave the rabbits for residents to find on Easter Sunday. The heads were not found on Easter because, in the words of the investigating detective, “The geniuses didn’t realize that people weren’t going to open their mailboxes on Easter morning” to find the rabbit heads since no mail is delivered on Sundays.

In May, a Westfield State University student majoring in criminal justice was accused of stealing a cellphone from the store where he was working and, when interviewed by a detective, reported that he had stolen merchandise from the store valued at about $13,000 to help pay for his college expenses.

Also in May, the manager of a Main Street pizza shop elected to retain the services of an assistant manager who admitted that he had been stealing from his employer “for quite some time.” No charges were pursued.

In June, a city man who worked as a volleyball coach at Agawam High School was charged with two counts of statutory rape after allegedly seducing a 15-year-old girl on his team.

In July, a city woman was arrested after she sold stolen silver half dollars to a police officer in full uniform. The officer, who happened to be a coin collector, had noticed the woman make a purchase at a convenience store with Walking Liberty half dollars, minted in 90 percent silver from 1916 to 1947, and offered to buy the coins for face value. The woman accepted the offer and, when the officer found similar coins had been stolen in a case the woman was believed to have been involved in, she was arrested.

In September, a woman who left her purse in her pew when she went to the altar of her church to pray found it had been stolen when she returned.

Also in September, used cooking oil stored in the parking lot behind a retail establishment was stolen. More: Even grease gets stolen

In November, a city woman was charged with assault and battery after she threw a cup of hot coffee at a convenience store clerk who refused to sell her cigarettes. The clerk had reason to believe that the woman was attempting to buy the cigarettes on behalf of a younger companion.

In December, a Southwick man was jailed after he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend with a 10-inch butcher knife when she told him she was breaking up with him.

Also in December, a Springfield woman was jailed when an alert banker reported that she was apparently attempting to take over her grandfather’s bank accounts. After city police investigated the situation, she was also charged with possession of three different classes of controlled drugs.

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Media Credit: The Westfield News

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