HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – The police unions representing Holyoke officers and supervisors held a news conference to respond to a comment by City Councilor Jose Maldonado Velez at a City Council meeting earlier this month.

This all stems from a comment made last week by City Councilor José Maldonado Velez as the use of a gunshot detection system, ShotSpotter, was being discussed during a council meeting. Holyoke Councilor Jose Maldonado Velez represents an area he said would be most impacted by where ShotSpotter would be set up, disproportionality impacting Black and Brown communities.

“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

The police department, and the unions that represent it, say that’s not the case. “Let me be clear, your officers are not gang members. They are fathers, mothers, sons and daughters,” said Matthew Moriarty, President of International Brotherhood of Police Officers, or IBPO 409.

The Holyoke Police Department says that these kinds of comments are especially damaging coming from an elected official.

“We’re all supposed to be working together, to have open communication,” said Moriarty.

That’s why Moriarty, together with IBPO 388 President Manuel Rivera, held a news conference Tuesday to defend officers and open a dialogue.

“It does not decide what race is using a firearm. ShotSpotter notifies the local police department that a firearm has been used,” said Moriarty.

“If you look around, you can see we are a direct reflection of the community we serve,” said Rivera.

This discussion over ShotSpotter comes at a time when crime is increasing in the city.

A copy of a letter from the unions was sent to 22News from Holyoke Police Captain Matthew Moriarty:

22News contacted Velez last week 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.

Holyoke Councilor Jose Maldonado Velez