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Surge in street violence unrelated to gangs, Malden says

The recent rash of gun violence in Malden is linked to a group of “impact players,’’ many of whom are known to police but who are not believed to be part of an organized street gang, city and police officials said.

“They are young adults who pose a risk’’ to public safety, Mayor Gary Christenson said in an interview at City Hall.

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Individuals involved in the shootings were familiar with one another, but Malden does not have a growing gang presence, according to the Police Department’s spokesman, Lieutenant Mark Gatcomb.

“Do we have kids who are mobile, with vehicles, and who may have an association with gangs? Yes. But as far as us having gangs rooted here, flying their colors and claiming their territory? No, we don’t have that,” Gatcomb said.

Police are working closely with the Middlesex district attorney’s office and other area law enforcement agencies to learn more about the so-called impact players, he said.

“We’re trying to identify people who have been problematic, and who keep popping up on our radar,” said Gatcomb. “They may or may not have been charged with a crime before, but we have had some dealings with them on a routine basis.”

Despite the efforts, some Malden residents said they are unnerved by the violence.

“I moved here three years ago from Melrose, and I can’t wait to go back there,” said Bonnie Walsh, 44, the mother of two school-age children. “The schools are wonderful, but the crime is disturbing.”

She cited the story of a friend whose pocketbook was recently taken from her home in the city’s Maplewood section. It was recovered, but with all her money missing.

“It’s scary when your pocketbook gets stolen from your living room,” Walsh said.

Jolene Ross, 70, who lives downtown in senior housing, said she is bothered by reports of shootings and store robberies, including one Sept. 3 at the Stop & Shop on Charles Street.

“There are a lot of robberies,” Ross said, noting she had also heard of one recently at a small neighborhood shop. “I’ve read about the shootings. They seem to happen a lot. . . . You could be out and just get shot. You never know.”

Others are confident the city will win the fight against crime.

“Malden has a lot of police that go out,” said Elaine Kuang, 40, a mother of two who lives on Highland Avenue. “It’s a very nice neighborhood. I feel safe.”

“There’s crime everywhere,” said Richard Karlson, 84, who moved to Malden 15 years ago from Stoneham. “I can hear the sirens here at night. I’m glad they’re not coming for me. . . . But I think every community does the best they can.”

The surge in gun-related crimes includes:

 On Sept. 23, police recovered a loaded gun from a vehicle that had fled a house party at 265 Bryan St.

 On Sept. 10, a 17--year-old Malden youth was shot at 1 p.m. while riding his bicycle in the parking lot of Sun Kong restaurant on Eastern Avenue.

 On Aug. 18, a man was critically wounded in a shooting outside Ferryway School. On the same day, a man was shot in the parking lot of Ryan Amusements on Middlesex Avenue.

Suspects were charged with armed assault with intent to murder, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, unlawful possession of ammunition, and the carrying of a firearm without a license.

“On all occasions, the parties did know each other,” Gatcomb said. “A shooting naturally [causes] a lot of fear in people, but these were not random.”

Christenson, who in August announced a sweeping plan to curb crime in this city of nearly 60,000, asks residents for patience.

“I hope they hang in there with us as long as they possibly can. We are working to make this a safe city,” said Christenson, who holds monthly neighborhood crime meetings.

Two new officers have been assigned to the department’s anticrime unit, boosting the plain-clothes team to five members who will comb the city. A citizen’s tip to the unit recently resulted in the arrest of a resident on outstanding warrants, Christenson said. An officer also is assigned to patrol downtown regularly.

“Engaging residents is one of the most important functions of the Police Department,” the mayor said.

Four recent surprise sweeps of city parks and high-crime areas by Malden police and area law enforcement agencies yielded marijuana and alcohol, but no weapons. “We’re not always looking to recover weapons,” Gatcomb said. “We’re doing it to be proactive, to impact the quality of life.”

The City Council on Sept. 18 approved Christenson’s request for $133,000 to fund three new police officer positions, in addition to the four additional officers included in the city budget that took effect on July 1. The seven new positions will boost the Police Department to 82 members, the mayor said.

But the new officers still must be hired, and then attend a 24-week police academy. “It is a long process,” Christenson acknowledged. “They probably won’t come on board until early next year.”

New surveillance equipment, such as cameras or unmarked cruisers, will be included in a capital improvement plan slated to be submitted to the City Council for approval. A bond would then have to be secured to pay for it.

“Some of this will take time,” Christenson said. “This has been a very difficult time. But I hope people remember we have a very good city here in Malden.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeK­McCabe.
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