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Former green beret starts community policing program to address gang violence

Posted at 4:40 PM, Jul 20, 2020

After fighting off insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mike Cutone returned back to the streets of Springfield, Massachusetts, only to discover that the situation wasn’t much better at home.

During the late 2000s, it wasn’t out of the normal to see gang members openly riding up and down the community’s streets, openly brandishing assault rifles. The crime problem had gotten so bad that heroin was being sold in broad daylight, just blocks away from the state police barracks, where Cutone was stationed as an officer.

“The citizens didn’t feel safe, people felt like prisoners in their own homes,” Cutone recalled of those years.

Having recently returned from a counter insurgency tour overseas, Cutone could see that the way the crime ridden neighborhoods were being policed wasn’t working. So, he came up with a plan, drawn directly from his experience as a Green Beret. The idea was called Counter Criminal Continuum Policing or C3. Cutone partnered with Springfield police to create the new concept that focused on gaining the trust of the community instead of just arresting criminals.

For the past 12 years, community leaders, city police, state police, residents and business owners have met once a week as part of the C3 program. From getting to know local business owners, to knocking on doors, the program’s foundation is rooted in winning over the trust of the community in an effort to address crime.

And it’s working.

“You aren’t going to arrest your way out of crime. We weren’t looking at crime through the lens of the people that live there. It starts with law enforcement understanding what these communities are going through,” Cutone said.

As the nation currently struggles with police reform, Cutone sees this as a model other city could emulate.

“Because of the trust factor, we built legitimacy with the community and meeting with them on a weekly basis, we want to hear what they have to say and solve these problems in their communities. Right now, we’re not hearing about partnership we’re hearing about division, division never wins there has to be a partnership,” he added.

Although parts of the city are still dealing with crime, the areas infiltrated by the C3 program are almost unrecognizable. On streets where gang members once dealt drugs in broad daylight, neighbors’ biggest complaints are now typically about illegal dumping.

And community leaders can see the long-term impacts the program is having.

“We can see businesses are coming back and young people can get a job. Now we look at the city as being one neighborhood because we’re all working together for the same cause,” said Neil Boyd, a local Bishop in the area.