While fighting terrorism is the FBI's top priority for the nation, battling street warfare is its most pressing worry in Greater Springfield, according to the agency's regional chief.
Richard DesLauriers, the FBI supervisor out of Boston, said during a recent interview that counterterrorism, counterintelligence and cyber crime top the list of national threats, but teens with guns are this city's most persistent menaces, prompting the agency to increase resources to combat that in Western Massachusetts.
"We're acutely aware the most significant problem here is violent, street-based and neighborhood gangs," said DesLauriers, a Longmeadow native and Cathedral High School graduate, and the FBI supervisor in charge of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine.
DesLauriers met with the editorial board at The Republican along with Springfield FBI supervisor Mark Karangekis on Tuesday, four days before the outbreak of violence in Mason Square that left one man dead and another wounded. A suspect in the shootings was wounded by police after they said he shot a city patrolman and state trooper. Both officers were wearing protective vests and were not seriously injuried.
The suspect, Tamik Kirkland, had escaped from a medium security facility in Shirley and returned to his hometown where police said he was a member of the so-called Maynard Street posse. Police said he shot two men on State Street, one fatally, before opening fire on pursuing police at Burr and Cambridge streets.
The death is the seventh in the city, following the March 12 shooting of 16-year-old Kevin Gomez, killed outside a birthday party on lower Belmont Avenue. Charged was 17-year-old Gregory Falero, who has pleaded innocent.
There also have been a series of nonfatal shootings in the city recently. Law enforcement officials say drug and turf wars typically spur the bloodshed.
Karangekis said an FBI-led regional gang task force, which includes members from local police departments, the state police, the Hampden County Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, turns its sights daily on the area's most gang-plagued neighborhoods to identify and prosecute "impact players."
Karangekis said so-called "street posses" can be more dangerous than national gangs, including La Familia and the California-based Bloods, precisely because they are less organized and more volatile than their more structured counterparts.
"They morph," Karangekis said, meaning there is always a queue of young recruits to replace any one member taken off the streets by law enforcement or violence and their affiliations are fluid. "You might be part of a street posse one day and a Blood the next. Kids emulate national street gangs."
DesLauriers also said Springfield is a crossroads for drug activity to its north, south, east and even west; law enforcement officials have identified a growing gang problem in Pittsfield and Lee, he said.
High on the list of national crime-fighting priorities are public corruption; civil rights violations such as hate crimes; national and trans-national crimes (an ethnically broader umbrella for traditional organized crime), and significant white-collar crimes such as mortgage and securities fraud.
Prior to arriving as the Boston supervisor, DesLauriers was formerly the deputy assistant director of counterintelligence in Washington D.C., the head of the FBI's counterintelligence unit in New York City from 2006 and 2007, and an assistant supervisor in the Boston FBI office before that.
He said the agency has changed from solely a crime-fighting entity to an "intelligence-driven, threat-focused" national security agency since Sept. 11, 2001.
"Decades ago, we would react to a crime ... (make an arrest), go to trial or someone would plead guilty and the bad guy would go to jail. We can't afford to be reactive anymore," DesLauriers said.