Counterinsurgency Cops: Military tactics fight street crime

Tactics used overseas in the war on terror are helping law enforcement take back the streets of Springfield, Mass., from criminal gangs

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Deputy Police Chief Barbieri was desperate for a way to break the gangs' hold on the community. So three years ago he agreed to let Cutone and a small team of elite troopers -- most of them war veterans too - target the North End, which had become a violent marketplace for some of the cheapest heroin in the whole country.

In addition to drug busts, they walked the streets, knocked on doors, hung out in neighborhood shops trying to woo the locals.

[Mike Cutone: Here for pastries today, food?

Woman: Yes

Mike Cutone: Outstanding, this is the best place in Springfield!]

But there was a lot of skepticism: Not everyone welcomed the troopers.

Mike Cutone: I could remember one door, the last knock of the day I had. A grandmother comes out and she just tee'd off on me. Wanted nothing to do with me, used colorful language, said the police were racist, etc., etc.

But they kept at it, almost daily.

[Mike Cutone: Trooper Mike Cutone, nice to see you, sir.]

And eventually began developing sources and tips.

Mike Cutone: We're not just using bad guys for information and getting information. We're using the other 99 percent of the population that live there. Winning them over. They become our eyes and ears. And the floodgates have opened for criminal information that we can go after now.

Lesley Stahl: The floodgates have opened?

Mike Cutone:: Yes, they have.

Lesley Stahl: That much?

Mike Cutone: Yes, that much. Myself and the other troopers, my phone is ringing constantly, every day, either text messages, they'll send me pictures of where they located guns, they'll send me e-mails of who's selling drugs.

One of the keys to building trust in Iraq, Cutone says, was having his counterinsurgency team move into the town, sending a message: "We're not going away."

Lesley Stahl: Yeah, but eventually you drive off.

Mike Cutone: We do drive off, but when we drive off, we've given them a template on how to control their town independently and without fear.

With the uncertainty about counterinsurgency's ultimate success overseas, the troopers and local police are determined to build something permanent in Springfield.

[Mike Cutone: As always, remember why we are here.]

And essential to that is a regular Thursday "elders" meeting. Local residents come together with politicians, police, health and housing organizations, educators, businessmen and Latino leaders.

Lesley Stahl: So how important are these meetings to the overall mission?

Mike Cutone: They're crucial. What we found out is you had all these different groups that do good work for low income folks in troubled areas. None of 'em were talking with each other. So the Thursday meeting brought all these people together. Karen Pullman, a nurse from Baystate, raises her hand at one Thursday meeting and says, "Hey, I want to create a walking school bus." We're, like, "What's a walking school bus? That's great."

Fear of the gangs was so high that parents and kids were often afraid to walk the streets.

Mike Cutone: Carlos, Miguel, nice to meet you Carlos.

Now, big burley troopers and teachers walk neighborhood kids to school. It's a strong visual message to the families there that the troopers and police are protecting their children and taking control of the streets back from the gangs.