Mayoral Candidates On Central Ave Murders, Crime in New Bedford
New Bedford suffered its seventh and eighth homicides of 2017 in a double shooting early Tuesday night on the normally quiet Central Avenue.
The victims, 27-year-old Stephen Bodden and an as yet to be indentified 28-year-old New Bedford man, after their car was targeted by gunfire and then crashed near 200 Central Avenue around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. Bodden, the driver, was pronounced dead at the scene, while the unidentified passenger died sometime before noon.
Both New Bedford mayoral candidates on the November 7th ballot joined WBSM's Barry Richard in separate interviews Tuesday afternoon to discuss the murders, as well as crime in the city overall. Incumbent Mayor Jon Mitchell called Central Avenue "a pretty low-key neighborhood," noting that his mother grew up on the same block where the murders took place and the area doesn't have a history of criminal activity.
"It's not a place where things would occur like this," he said. "There wasn't a direction connection to the neighborhood. I think these guys were just passing through. That's a very quiet area."
The mayor said he took a walk through the neighborhood after the crime scene was wrapped up, talking to neighbors and trying to put them at ease. While he said he can't comment on specifics of the investigation, he said there is no "evident connection" to Central Avenue, and noted that the street has always been a cut-through for people trying to get to Ashley Boulevard and Acushnet Avenue. But he said when something like this happens, "it affects your whole neighborhood."
"That is a jarring experience. So at least for the sake of, if nothing else, to make them feel good, we'll put more police cars out there," Mitchell said. "I don't particularly think there is a threat around Central Avenue, but again, we want to make sure people feel okay to go out and walk their neighborhood, as they certainly have a right to do."
Perry agreed that people need to feel reassured after the number of murders in New Bedford has more than doubled from what it was a year ago.
"New Bedford is not the New Bedford we had years ago. It's changing, and so we have to change too, the way we're thinking about things," Perry said.
Mitchell admitted that the increased amount of murders has those at City Hall and police headquarters scratching their heads.
"We are struggling a little bit to figure out why we've had this significant uptick. This is far more homicides than we've had in the last few years, and what our job is now is to get on top of it," he said, noting he has full confidence in Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro and his strategies. "We're looking to develop a more robust data set to deal with some of our deployment challenges in (problem neighborhoods), so we can get to the right places at the right time."
Mitchell also believes more frequent inspection of non-owner occupied properties and a more stringent problem property ordinance would also be "stronger tools" in what he called a "constant battle" dealing with absentee landlords who rent to criminals. Perry agrees with Mitchell that absentee landlords need to be held more accountable for the people to whom they rent.
"It's very essential. If they don't have a place to go, they're going to move on, move out of the area," Perry said. "What City Hall and the City Council need to do, we all need to work together to get this rectified, and come up with better solutions. We're trying, but we definitely need to step it up. If it comes to a point where we need to be a lot harsher on landlords and the criminals themselves, we have to do that."
The two also agree that judges need to keep dangerous criminals off the streets once they are arrested. Mitchell noted that Bodden was previously charged in connection to a 2012 murder of a Wareham man at a Providence nightspot.
"We'll do more warrant sweeps, and try to get more guns off the streets, but the key now is to put a lid on it, and then try to stabilize it in the long run," Mitchell said. "What does the long run look like? Getting judges to hold dangerous people, and they continue to fail to do that."
"When you find out the people involved in (recent murders) are habitual offenders, that's the alarming thing about it," Perry said. "Perhaps we could have had them in jail months ago, and maybe some of these murders may not have happened."
Mitchell stressed that even though Tuesday's shooting took place on Central Avenue, citizens are still shaken over a stabbing death and an arson case on Tallman Street last week.
"We're going to continue to make our presence felt," Mitchell said, noting that more cameras are going up and a stronger police presence will continue. "But we've got to continue to work at it, because if I lived on Tallman Street, I wouldn't feel safe. I don't blame people for feeling that way, and it's our job in city government to deploy all the resources and exercise all the authority we have to make that part of the city feel safe."
Perry, a New Bedford Police officer for the past 30 years, also believes that the New Bedford Police Department has "the minimum staffing," so he'd like to see their ranks increased. That would also allow for his idea of bring back the Community Police Unit.
"The first thing critics will say is, we don't have the money," he said. "But we have to get that money to get that unit going again, because it frees up that unit to work on things like (Tuesday's murders). It would would focus on high-crime incidents...and work on some strategies to get these men and women off the streets."
Perry has seen firsthand how dedicated the police are to keeping the city free of crime.
"We come into work, and we want to do the best we can, because we want to keep everyone safe," he said. "From the start of our shift to the end of our shift, we want to make sure the city is safe."
But Perry acknowledged that a big part of the problem is the perception that people have that crime is rampant in New Bedford, which he says is because people focus too much on the negative.
"You have to bring out the good that's happening (in the city)," Perry said. "The bad's going to come out, but the good can come out too. We are a good city, a bunch of good, working people. The bad's coming to come out, with social media and the internet. It's constant, everyone's videotaping. As we're getting that bad perception, we also have to get out that good perception."
"If we continue to bring those things out, it will build up our own perception. It starts within first. Everyone has to have some pride in their city, and say, 'hey, I love where I live,' because I know I do," he said.
Perry said that crime is definitely going to be an issue in this mayoral race.
"Crime is always an issue in every campaign," he said. "If you're not addressing it, you're actually lying to yourself. You need to address it. We all need to address it, from the Mayor's Office to the City Council to the people of the city also."
And as for the reports in recent years that crime is down in New Bedford, Mayor Mitchell said that no amount of data will ring true for someone who has been affected by crime.
"The data doesn't comfort somebody who has lost a loved one, or whose neighborhood has been wrecked," he said. "As I've said before, I don't feel my job is done until every part of the city is safe, and feels safe, and that's what we have to get after."