HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – The Holyoke Police Chief responded to a comment made by a city councilor over a discussion about ShotSpotter.

The City Council tabled the discussion in last Thursday’s meeting to accept funding for ShotSpotter. The Police Chief this Thursday expressing frustration with a comment made during final thoughts.

“This police force, like the presentation yesterday, where they talked about all the gangs and stuff, but the police is a gang. It literally is. They’re there to protect each other to look out for each other and to come out with force.”

Holyoke Councilor Jose Maldonado Velez

Velez represents the area he said would be most impacted by where ShotSpotter would be set up, disproportionality impacting Black and Brown communities. The tool alerts police when gun shots are going off in the area.

22News asked Holyoke Police Chief David Pratt what he thought about the comments. He felt that calling the police department a gang was “disturbing.”

“I’m more than willing to sit down with Councilor Velez and go over it again. What we do here everyday. It’s disheartening that an elected official would say that,” Pratt continued.

The conversation over putting in place ShotSpotter comes as the city faces its fifth homicide this year.

22News contacted Velez to further elaborate on his recent comment. He stated:

ShotSpotter / a gunshot detection system is not the solution to the real, systemic public health problems we have in our city. More jobs, education, affordable housing, food, strong infrastructure, and mental health services are what are needed to rid of the plague that is gun violence. I’d rather invest time, capital,  and effort into those versus another for-profit company’s product that has been shown to not work in other municipalities.

As for my comment, I am passionate about the future of public safety and re-building our concept of it to best serve everyone, especially people of color. After that meeting, when speaking to people in the community, I received “thank yous” that I shared this as an elected official. I think what was shocking to those who took serious offense is that Holyoke has a councilor that finally feels empowered to share openly about his experience growing up as a Latino man in Holyoke, and has a platform to share that experience in a very public setting. Since the protests in 2020, we have been imploring privileged identities to imagine how people feel when the entity that is meant to protect and serve actually reinforces trauma people may have and throughout communities.

I’d hope the Chief response would be, “We need to work towards not having that image, maybe that’s why they’re not calling us”. Instead, the Chief chose to try and silence me. I will not be silenced. Instead I hope to help him and others on their learning journey of the experiences in this community and share more of my own experiences.