Up Next: Augustus, Gemme have gun violence in their crosshairs

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Up Next is intended to be a regular to occasional series highlighting stories and subjects we believe will be making news in the coming week.

It’s still very early in 2016, but Worcester’s city manager and police chief are already set out to tackle gang violence and keep positive momentum from the final months of 2015 building on the city’s streets.

As part of his agenda for the Tuesday, Jan. 12, City Council meeting, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. will address the issue of gun violence and the Police Department’s means to deter further gang activity in hopes to see a continued decline in such crime.

Last year, according to Worcester Police data, the city witnessed 31 acts of gun violence, five of which resulted in homicides.

The summer saw an unusually high amount of gun incidents: 18 of last year’s 31 shootings occurred during summer.

Over the final four months of the year, there were only four acts of gun violence — down from 13 over that same period in 2014.

From 2014 to 2015, the number of incidents of gun violence dropped from 38 to 31.

“These numbers represent a significant reduction in gun violence, and in part is the result, of a number of proactive and established law enforcement strategies,” Police Chief Gary Gemme said in a communication to the city manager.

The number of homicides in the city, however, increased from seven in 2014 to eight in 2015. This remained in line with the average annual number of homicides (eight) over the past five years (five by firearms), according to Gemme.

“Based on an analysis of gunshot incidents we know that most are confined to a relatively small group of violent offenders,” Gemme wrote. “Many of the perpetrators and victims of gun violence are well known to the criminal justice system and to each other, and are gang involved, or engaged in illegal drug activity.”

According to Augustus’ own communication to the City Council, the city will support police efforts in 2016 by continuing the programs such as the Youth Violence Initiative.

“These efforts are crucial to the success of the long-term battle against violence in our neighborhoods,” Augustus said in his report.

The last four months hold no relevance in the battle against gun violence in 2016, countered council Vice Chairman Michael T. Gaffney in an email.

“We have a summer impact program because crime is greater in the summer, so a [dropoff] is completely predictable.

“Further, is three months a trend? We all know summer is when most crimes are committed, so isn’t a decline expected?

According to the chief’s report to Augustus, 58 percent of violent gun crimes committed in Worcester last year occurred during the summer months.

“It is far too soon to declare victory,” Gaffney said.

The at-large councilor argued that although the number of shootings decreased, the police should also focus on the number of stabbings.

“With [ShotSpotter], I wonder if we are seeing a transition to stabbings,” Gaffney said.

Augustus also announced the addition of 36 police recruits that are scheduled to begin training Jan. 18. Training is scheduled to be completed by July 1.

“Together, we will remain vigilant and continue to use this multi-pronged approach to further reduce the number of violent incidents so that we remain a safe and livable community,” Augustus added.

The Worcester Police strategy for the new year, Gemme said, will have a focus on a core group of gun violence offenders, while continuing to work with the District Attorney and other law enforcement, and utilizing existing “technology, crime analysis, and information provided by our neighborhood watch groups and other community partners.”

“The reduction in gun violence in 2015 particularly the last quarter is a positive trend and speaks to the safety of our community,” the chief said.

The City Council meets at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 12, Esther Howland Chamber, City Hall, 455 Main St.

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