All They Want for Christmas is a Bike Cop

by Melissa Bailey | October 6, 2006 8:16 AM | | Comments (7)

East Rockers sought protection from a streak of armed muggings. Citing open drug-dealing, neighbors in Cedar Hill, a self-contained northeastern stretch of East Rock by State Street and the Hamden border, asked for a bike cop for Christmas. At a public meeting with top police brass Thursday night, both said a loss of community policing, and a decline in police presence, are eroding their quality of life.

Sitting on folding chairs in the foyer of Wilbur Cross High School, two groups — a block watch from Cedar Hill, and a slew of neighbors from greater East Rock — got the chance to ask Assistant Police Chief Herman Badger and other top cops about the problems facing their streets. The meeting came as top cops traverse the city, restrategizing and responding to a citywide outcry that community policing is dead.

Cedar Hill: “We feel neglected”

Block watch members from Cedar Hill said their neighborhood — an isolated, eight-street enclave tucked between East Rock Park and Interstate 91 — is being overrun by drug dealers.

“My cousins cannot come out the house because there are all these guys out there on the street,” said one 17 year-old girl, one of about 30 Cedar Hill block watch members to turn up to the meeting. Others told of drug dealers on May working out of lawn chairs; transactions in suspicious vans near the Hess gas station; and customers zipping in and out of a notorious State Street barber shop at all hours of the night — “and not to get their hair cut.”

Marexes Reed (pictured) said she’s tired of seeing drug dealers and prostitutes on the corner near where she lives. “I’m fed up. These kids are sitting home, they’re running drugs while we’re all out working.” Many said they didn’t call headquarters because they don’t respond in time.

Neighbors see the persistent problems as a result of decreased patrol. Anthony Zullo rattled off the names of all the beat cops he knew in the ’90s, when federal funds supported 45 extra cops and many walking beats. “I’d see them walk by, I’d feed ‘em, give ‘em ice cream,” he said. “They worked their butts off to clean up the neighborhood.” Nowadays, he said, he doesn’t see regular patrols come by. Nor did any other Cedar Hill people at the meeting.

Cops insisted they’re at work in the area, and that neighbors could help. Sgt. Romano Ratti, who supervises the diverse swath of the city encompassing Cedar Hill, East Rock and Newhallville, said he doesn’t get many calls from Cedar Hill.

One woman said she’d given up.

Lt. Billy White, who heads the police narcotics unit, gave out his cell phone number to those who might witness drug interactions: “Call me when you see it happen.” He said his officers made seven arrests on May Street within the last month.

East Rock Alderman Ed Mattison, who hosted the meeting between Ward 10 members and five policemen, insisted the neighbors and cops need to build a strategy, because “blowing into the neighborhoods, making a bunch of arrests, then leaving” just isn’t a long-term solution.

“We need a Brian Donnelly in Cedar Hill — that would make a hell of a lot of difference,” said Mattison, referring to East Rock’s newly restored, much-applauded bike cop.

“That would be a Christmas gift!” remarked one Cedar Hill man. Not wanting to wait for Christmas, Block watchers agreed to pick a target — barber shop or Hess Station — and create a plan to pressure the drug activity out.

The plan will be discussed at the next Cedar Hill Block Watch meeting, on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. at the East Rock Magnet School.

East Rock: We Need More Info

Residents of greater East Rock, who live closer to downtown around the Orange Street area, said they are afraid to walk at night after a rash of armed muggings. They begged for information: Have you made arrests? Is this really a rash? What has been done to stop the trend?

“I’m really angry because someone pointed a gun at my chest in June,” said David Silberkleit, who was held up at gunpoint while taking a walk near Orange and Lawrence Streets this summer with his girlfriend, Leslie Prodis.

After the assault, the pair led a block watch revival in the area of Orange, Cottage, Avon, and Lawrence Streets. Since then, Silberkleit has gotten several emails from people who have also been mugged. E-mailers share descriptions of their assailants, but Silberkleit said no progress has been made. “The message that I’m getting from the community is there’s a lot of outrage. … People are afraid. They don’t know who to call, what to do.”

Sgt. Kevin Costin, head of the burglary/robbery unit, counted nine street robberies in East Rock since July. Perhaps most jarring were two muggings just one block away from each other on Lawrence Street. They happened less than 24 hours apart, on Sept. 10, both reportedly with sawed-off shotguns.

Those muggings, and a lack of police presence, are eating away at East Rock’s social fabric, residents said. “There’s a real difference in our neighborhood now. People are afraid to go out after dark. There’s not the same sense of neighborhood anymore,” said Robin Schafer.

Officer Joseph Avery, who’s in charge of neighborhood services, said the area’s also seen a recent spike in auto break-ins: 17 cars have been broken into within the last week.

“We all recognize that we need a stronger [police] presence there,” said Assistant Chief Badger, referring to East Rock. The bike cop has returned, working 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Other than that, Badger could only say that he hoped for a large recruitment class to take to the streets in January.

Costin (pictured) tried to assure neighbors that the bout of street robberies was over. He said he thinks two teens who were arrested in Newhallville, one of whom had a shotgun, are responsible for up to four East Rock robberies.

Yet he said the teens have not confessed as such nor been arrested on robbery charges. And descriptions from the two consecutive Lawrence Street muggings did not necessarily coincide: One group was described as Hispanic, the other group as black.

Asked if the seeming spike in robberies was really a “spike” — it sure felt like one to many 20-year-plus residents in the room — Costin didn’t have an answer. He said the incidents aren’t the same as last year’s, when groups of teens on bicycles robbed a lot of people in the Prospect Street area. But he couldn’t give stats specific to East Rock, comparing this year’s robberies with last year’s.

The simple unanswered question — has crime gone up in our neighborhood this summer? — left residents clamoring for hard facts. Frustrated Yale students, one of whom had seen a friend shot on Mansfield Street, said they didn’t know where or when robberies were happening, other than when the university alerts them through email.

Long-time resident and former Alderman Dick Lyons (pictured) said having no access to comprehensive crime info “leaves us powerless.” “When you see the information, you can act on it,” he said — by avoiding perilous streets, for example, and traveling safer ones. District-specific incident reports used to be sent out to the public, but aren’t any more.

“We’re doing that through the Independent now,” said Badger.

But the Independent’s crime log hasn’t been updated since June, because the only cop who apparently knew how to work the computer files was put on extended leave.

Avery said he hopes a new computer software program will restore those updates in October on the city’s web site.

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Posted by: Cedar Hill Resident | October 6, 2006 9:01 AM


Your story does not tell that the "powers that be" have known about the places that are dealing drugs for years and that they keep promising to help but never do. When the “powers that be� were coming to our meeting they were told. They have done walk through with the captain of the block watch and others in the community to see where the crime is.

This story in my eyes is a down play of the massive drug dealing that is happening at cedar hill ave, May st and Warren Pl.and the Barber shop and Hess station and the few surrounding streets that get affected.

Your storie states they don't get many calls from CEDAR HILL. They did at one time. But we are at a point that "When talking to a brick wall you are not going to get any answers back" They {the residents of Cedar Hill) Have stopped calling because it is useless to call the police if they are not going to show up and help. When they do not come and if they do it is 4 hours later you kinda give up hope that the police are able to help us.(weather it be lack of staff, funds or time)

We have called Narc. Div. they knew about this Barber shop when they were on Ferry and Lombard and they know about it now that it is in our area,
but at least as far as we know nothing is being done.

We did this meeting to allow the powers that be to see the numbers in our community that showed up most of the people that were there the first hour were CEDAR HILL residents.
The police will still not get the calls weather is is a fear or just that people have become indifferent and have exepted that CEDAR HILL will not get help. We as the block watch go out and talk to the people in the community and gather up the information for the police and tell our Sgt were the problems are. Because we know they are not calling.

NO CALLS is NO EXCUSE not to help us. We are giving you all the information. Please send police.

Posted by: Esbe [TypeKey Profile Page] | October 6, 2006 11:11 AM

These meetings with the police are great, because they are our only chance to get community policing back to where it once was in our city. Until just recently, while the city has been flooding one neighborhood with "ID-NET" cops, arresting tons of folks for marijuana possession and so forth, there are no beat cops in other neighborhoods to deal with the tiny little problem of daylight stick-ups by teenagers armed with sawed-off shotguns.

The city has to get the "community policing" beat patrols back to where they were before the federal cut-backs and the failed ID-NEt program. If it means cutting funding elsewhere and even raising taxes, then we are going to have to bite the bullet. The alternative is going back to the early 1990s, when citizens lived in fear and the typical press coverage of New Haven treated the place as an obvious hell-hole.

I think we should really do everything, right now, to avoid that.

Posted by: joseph | October 6, 2006 11:31 AM

This so-called crime "spike" is only due to coverage from the Independent and other "new media" sources in this small city. Crime in New Haven is down 7% from last year, and down over 50% since 1990. When you live in a big city, you don't hear about crime right across the street because there are no neighborhood newspapers. Even the major newspapers barely cover crime, unless it is especially heinous (e.g., the fatal robbery and shooting of a cabbie and father of several kids who was waiting to take the bus home in New York City a couple weeks ago). I lived in a major city once and a number people were killed in the immediate few blocks just over a period of a couple weeks, but nobody in my building or neighborhood ever knew or talked about it. New Haven is a very safe city. Of course there is an occasional random crime. But in terms of safety, you're a hundreds times better off walking the streets in a city (even in an actually dangerous one like the Bronx or Providence) than you are driving on a dangerous suburban road.

Posted by: Cedar Hill Resident | October 6, 2006 4:44 PM


I do agree that New Haven as a whole is doing pretty good with it's crime level. But some areas are having higher crime. As whole it is good, mostly the downtown area. I love New Haven I have lived here most of my life. I plan on staying here to. But if you lived where I did and saw the destruction of a great community happening before your eyes would you sit back and let it happen?? Most of the people that live in my area are wonderful hard work families. And we are afraid to come out of our houses. We have lived here most of our lives so we are aware of so downfalls of living in town we are not naïve . But when the dealing, drug use and prostitution are done almost out in the open day and night you have to say hmmm it is getting out of control. Take a stand and set it back on the straight and narrow. If not for ourselves for our children and the children in the families that are doing the illegal activities.

Posted by: Esbe [TypeKey Profile Page] | October 6, 2006 6:05 PM


I agree with your general feelings about cities (and New Haven) vs. the suburbs, but not with the details of your post. The "crime is down 7%" number comes from adding up the "number of crimes" so that a murder is treated the same as a shop-lifted shirt. The murder rate is up 50%.

The number of "dramatic street crimes" is very hard to measure, but it's the "neighborhood information machine", not just the Independent, that lets me know about daylight muggings in "safe" neighborhoods. The folks in Cedar Hill know about the crime wave in their neighborhood because they are watching it out the front door, not because of the "new media".

Ultimately, the health of the city depends much more on the perception of safety than on any crime statistic. Beat cops help folks feel in control and provide reassurance against panic when crime does spike. A cop with Cedar Hill as part of her beat would know to *ask* about that Barber Shop/Drug Den. Programs like ID-NET generate arrest statistics, not the perception of safety.

Posted by: MRS K | October 7, 2006 9:05 AM

The media did not fabricate the fact that murders are up. I think that the police are trying to do what they can and the media is being forthcoming about the statistics. The facts are the facts and unfortunately, the fact is that there is an upswing in violent crime at a national level. We are sadly seeing our own community as part of the trend.

Posted by: moegardner [TypeKey Profile Page] | October 18, 2006 10:44 AM

The worst thing folks can do is "not leave their homes." A vibrant neighborhood, with lots of activity and lots of people on foot and bikes, etc. leads to a safe(r) neighborhood. The upsurge in violent crime in New Haven, like the rest of the country, is a result of the growing gap between the haves and have-nots. We definitely need stronger commitment to community policing (beat cops) AND programs to get people out of desparate situations that lead them to not care about their own welfare or that of others.

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