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FITCHBURG -- Police Chief Robert DeMoura said he is opposed to a ordinance proposed by Ward 4 Councilor Kevin Starr that would allow police to target gang members and arrest them for loitering.
Police already have laws on the books that can be used to target gang activity, DeMoura said during a Public Safety Meeting in City Hall on Wednesday night.
"If we're looking to focus on gang violence, I think there's other ways to use the resources we have," DeMoura said.
Starr said he's going to rework the petition in an effort to confront what he calls an increasingly worsening gang problem in the city.
"We just want to make it as difficult as possible (for gangs) to do business in this city," Starr said during the meeting. "We don't want you here."
DeMoura said he too thinks gang activity is increasing and will continue to rise in urban areas.
The committee referred the petition to City Solicitor Michael Ciota for opinion. Ciota said during the meeting that he has "serious doubts about its constitutionality."
Specifically, the ordinance allows police to arrest gang members for loitering. Ciota said it would be very difficult for an officer to identify who a gang member is.
Starr said police know who the gang members are in the city. Plus, he said, gang members advertise that they are members to police officers. Starr sponsored the petition in conjunction with some local police officers. It is a word-for-word copy of an ordinance adopted in Somerville in 2004.

DeMoura said during the meeting that he contacted Somerville Police Chief Anthony Holloway and learned that Somerville Police have never used the ordinance because of the constitutional issues.
"It's not going to be that useful of a tool if it's going to be subject to that kind of an attack," DeMoura said.
DeMoura said many gang issues are drug related, so he said police may look at other ways to target street-level drug dealing. He said there are a variety of laws already on the books to enforce, such as trespassing, obstruction of public places and public drinking.
"We have the biggest gang in the city, it's the Fitchburg Police Department," he said.
DeMoura said after the meeting the city should focus on improving quality of life for residents, which will reduce gang activity. That can be done by installing additional lighting, sweeping streets and cutting brush away.
Ward 3 Councilor Joel Kaddy, a former cop, said he doesn't think bad guys "should have any rights," and said he supports the petition.
"I personally agree with this, but I also understand innocent people could be affected by it," said Kaddy, who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee.
The petition will be reviewed, and possibly rewritten by Ciota, and referred to the city's Legislative Affairs Committee.
In other news from the meeting, numerous business owners spoke out against a petition to change Putnam Street from Main Street to Boulder Drive into a one-way street.
Clark Straight, owner of the Johnsonia Apartment building on Main Street, said it's convenient for Putnam Street to be two-ways, allowing for drivers to travel directly from the Putnam Street bridge to Main Street.
"It's made it so much easier for people to get to Main Street," he said.
Other business owners said they would like the street to remain two-ways, but they do want additional metered parking spots to be installed along Putnam Street.
When it was one-way, there use to be about a half-dozen metered spots there, said Kent Bourgault, manager of Shacks Fine Clothing on Main Street.
Starr said the two-way street creates an unnecessary burden for drivers traveling from Main Street to Boulder Drive.
Starr called for a traffic study to be conducted by the Police Department on the issue, so the committee took no action on the matter. Also, Council President Tom Conry's petition to install photo equipment atop traffic signals was thrown out. The council held for consideration a petition to restrict dogs and animals from public areas from Ward 2 Councilor Norman Boisvert, who said he would toss it.

http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/local/ci_10914120
 
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