HOLYOKE, Mass. (WGGB) — Fifteen explosive and drug sniffing dogs spread out with three teams of officers all across Holyoke Tuesday.
It was all part of a massive operation called “Operation P.A.W.S.” or “Proactive Area Weapons Search.” It’s a program that was started by the Boston Police Department and is now orchestrated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) Boston Field Division.
Dozens of officers and their dogs, from the State Police, Boston, Revere, Milton, and beyond took part Tuesday.
The goal: to find community guns, or weapons that gangs and groups stash in a public place for easy use in drug deals or protection.
“Everybody knows where to get it or that tight knit group of people know where to go to get that gun and the more that gun gets used in several crimes,” Holyoke Police Chief James Neiswanger said. “Some guns have actually several bodies on it and then somebody decides to dispose of it.”
There were zero homicides in Holyoke in 2012. This year, there’s been four, with all of them victims dying of gunshot wounds.
Police say community guns can be anywhere, like tucked underneath a dumpster or even underneath a stairwell.
“You don’t want firearms to be available to be found by children or other individuals,” ATF Special Agent Deborah Seifert said. “That’s why we are here.”
Four people were arrested for drug trafficking and warrants Tuesday, but no guns were recovered.
Longtime residents, like business owner and pastor Eddie Rivera, says that is good news.
“I’m a landlord. I’m the owner of these two houses and I like to see the police more in activity in the area to try to keep the control of any person trying to come to do wrong thing you know,” Rivera said.
“Operation P.A.W.S.” not only secured neighborhoods, but Chief Neiswanger says it will make carrying guns uncomfortable in his city.
“If you can get the guns, all illegal guns, including community guns off the street or you can make doing business with a gun as it’s too expensive for the bad guy to do that, then he’s not going to want to touch it,” Neiswanger adds. “Then the violent crime goes down.”
Police say that the crackdown on guns will continue, in both obvious and non-obvious means. Similar “Operation P.A.W.S.” programs have been used in Boston, New Bedford, and Hartford.
Two of the four men will be facing drug trafficking charges in court Wednesday morning.