3 Weeks + 166 Traffic Stops = No Shootings?

Paul Bass PhotosCops in Newhallville started pulling over more drivers for running lights or missing plates. Then the shootings stopped.

Nobody believes that ending street violence is that simple.

But Lt. Herb Sharp, Newhallville’s top cop, does seem some connection between those two facts.

Those facts describe the past three weeks in Newhallville. On March 24 two people were shot on Butler Street; one, 17-year-old Taijhon Washington, died from his wounds. (Police Thursday charged an 18-year-old New Haven man with committing that murder.) Shortly before that incident, two people were shot, non-fatally, in drive-bys on Lilac Street and Newhall Street.

In response, the police beefed up coverage in Sharp’s district, adding overtime beats to his regular walking and driving patrols. Sharp gave all those cops a directive: Stop cars on the main arteries—Bassett Street, Winchester Avenue, Dixwell and Shelton—for as many motor vehicle violations as possible. Running red lights. Running stop cars. Failing to have two plates on the car. Speeding.

Sharp’s thinking: “These perpetrators are bringing weapons in by car. They have to get in somewhere” to reach side streets where the shootings are occurring.

Sharp directed his cops to go lighter on people who live in the neighborhood: Explain to them why they’re getting stopped more. Issue them warnings instead of tickets when possible.

“We don’t want them to be victimized twice,” Sharp said. He reported Thursday that while many neighbors have initially reacted in frustration upon being stopped, they have supported the mission upon receiving the explanation.

He also reported some statistics for the period since Washington’s murder through this Monday. In that time Newhallvile has seen:

• 90 tickets for motor-vehicle violations like running stop signs.
• 2 tickets for missing parking tags.
• 9 summonses for misdemeanors like driving with a suspended license.
• 10 custodial arrests for more serious crimes like having an outstanding warrant.
• 44 written warnings.
• 11 verbal warnings.

And ...

• 0 shootings.

Now, shootings come in waves. Multiple factors lead to them occurring or not occurring. Sharp doesn’t claim that he has magically solved the violent crime problem in Newhallville.

He does take hope from the initial results of the previous three weeks. Since December, when Sharp took over the district (which includes Newhallville and East Rock), shootings have dropped there, as has other crime. He has worked hard, he said, on “building community partnerships” in the district.

For much of Sharp’s new tenure frigid temperatures may have kept the gangbangers inside. But the past three weeks have seen stretches of warmer temperatures, with more people outside—and no spike in Newhallville violence.

Sharp’s supervisor, Lt. Jeff Hoffman, said he believes the traffic stops are a factor, among several, in the three-week shooting hiatus in Newhallville.

“It’s fairly accepted in policing that increased highly visible motor vehicles stops at night when you see the lights flashing all over the place are a deterrent to crime,” Hoffman said. “It gives the appearance of omnipresence.”

Newhallville Alderwoman Brenda Foskey-Cyrus said Sharp’s approach “appears to be working.”

Some five to 10 constituents have called her to complain about the stops, she said. “The neighbors feel they’re just pulling over a lot of Afro-Americans in the community. I’m trying to stress to them the reason for the pull-over. [Police are] trying to make sure they don’t bring guns in the community.”

“Ninety-five percent of our residents are African-American” in Newhallville, Sharp noted.

One community organizer in Newhallville, homeowner Tammy Chapman (pictured during a neighborhood beautification effort), was far more critical of the stops. She called the campaign the antithesis of community policing—because rather than relying on building trust with neighbors to get information on what happens on side streets, it creates a hostile police “omnipresence.”

“People are upset about it,” Chapman said.

“Speed control and calming, we’re all for those things. But let’s not use them in excess. And let’s not use them as an excuse for what appears to a majority of African-American residents to be harassment. To me it flies in the face of the theory of community policing.” She expressed skepticism that the stops will produce many guns; the guns, she said, are already in the community.

Chapman described an incident she witnessed at dusk right outside her home on Sunday. She saw six cops pull over a car and then arrest the driver. Meanwhile, she saw a young man ride his bike down Highland Street then turn right onto Winchester. She said three police cars blocked the usual space for bikes. As he tried to maneuver around the cops, she said, ” “I literally saw one of the police officers take him by the collar and lift him by the collar and take him off the bike.” She said understands that in the midst of an investigation, “your instincts would kick in and not your logic.” But she said the incident reflected the concerns of neighbors like her about the effect of the police response. She complained to Lt. Sharp, who told her the officer had a different version of the incident.

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posted by: HewNaven on April 17, 2014  5:25pm

Well, well, well. This is something citizens have been requesting for literally years. Routine traffic stops = safer citizens!

posted by: Shaggybob on April 17, 2014  5:29pm

Kudos to the PD for FINALLY using the tools at hand to stop bigger crimes from occurring, improving quality of life and promoting better driving. I am all for more traffic stops, most drivers in New Haven are less than obedient & impatient.

Although it is a bit hypocritical that the Police don’t have two license plates on their cars as required by State Statute, but has proven itself that’s its all for the better good.

posted by: gogogordon on April 17, 2014  5:39pm

In response to the attached poll, I would like to see more traffic stops period.  Driving in New Haven is too much like Thunderdome because there seems to be little to no interest in enforcing traffic laws.  Two nights ago I was driving down Quinnipiac Ave. and a car came up behind me going at great speed, crossed the double yellow line to pass me and continued down the road - all in front of a police car that did absolutely nothing in response.  Unfortunately this is an all too common practice in New Haven.

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on April 17, 2014  6:19pm

This has been done before, and written about in various LE textbooks. It is called saturation with moderate enforcement. And it has always been highly effective in stopping violence in cities. The problem will arise once the issue of race is introduced, and the students at the Yale law school, or ACLU, will bring themselves into the issue.

And as surreal as this seems, it will be determined that enforcing legislated laws, by the jurisdictions law enforcement agency, is an egregious affront to those in that community.

It is such an abomination that the continued gang violence, which is organized, and directed by those that lead these gangs, is preferable to a highly visible and active police force in these neighborhoods.

Very much like some foreign countries, where alternative forms of government, that take entire areas of countries hostage, through violence and death, even after half hearted occupations by armed forces are forced to leave, these organizations regain control, and continue their campaigns of violence, and baseless rhetoric, to justify their use of death on their hostage region. The region is needed to maintain their sources of revenue, which is the illegal narcotic trade.

In those nations these organizations are based in religious rhetoric, to justify their immoral, illegal, inhumane, lives.

Here, the rhetoric will find another base, which appears just, but is baseless, as it is being utilized to fertilize the growth of the degradation of the people who live there, and are hostages. There is no foundation for any beliefs that justifies the murders of children, and good people.

Yale won’t let this effort, based in the best of intentions to continue. Watch, and hope the local press will call out the agents for those drug gangs make themselves evident,and use their “credible” credentials, and the reputation of the institution they have some connection to, to impose their will on these suffering communities.

posted by: anonymous on April 17, 2014  6:20pm

Traffic stops work.  Safety depends on having eyes on the street.

Studies repeatedly prove that when you have speeding traffic, not only do people feel less inclined to venture outside in their neighborhood, they also are less inclined to use the front windows within their house. 

As traffic chaos and noise increases, people spend more time in rooms toward the rear of their homes—which means that the informal surveillance of the street is lost.

posted by: Nathan on April 17, 2014  7:01pm

What is the difference between this effective police action and the similar approach that was taken in East Haven.  The latter became a favorite target of NHI, yet this story all but claps the NHPD on the back.

[Editor: Here’s one difference, according to the results of an exhaustive federal civil rights investigation: East Haven police singled out Latino drivers, invented evidence against them, beat them up, lied about beating them up, and jailed them regularly on trumped-up charges while making threats against people who might expose them.]

posted by: new havener on April 17, 2014  7:37pm

it’s the ‘broken windows’ type of policing…go after the underlying problems that feed into the breakdown of civility and lawlessness. new haven needs this type of policing

posted by: Bradley on April 18, 2014  6:11am

Lt. Sharp is a good guy and I support this initiative. But selective enforcement is inherently a slippery slope. I understand the rationale for treating neighborhood residents more leniently than non-residents. But I can imagine the reaction if the NHPD were to issue tickets to non-white non-residents of East Rock who blow through stop signs there while issuing warnings to white neighborhood residents for the same offense. Pace JustAnotherTaxpayer, racially selective law enforcement (aka pulling someone over for “driving while black”) is a well-documented phenomenon, and I believe the sensitivity of the ACLU and others is warranted.

posted by: Philly2NH on April 18, 2014  8:36am

Poverty, gangs, drugs, culture, these things don’t cause crime. Economic policies do. For it is this base line, this mass exodus of good paying, unionized jobs where the people of Newhallville and the Hill could once actually walk to, clock in, work hard, then retire with a pension, that created the current abysmal conditions of 2014. So because we can’t go back in time and change this, what do we do? I believe community policing and walking beats are a step in the right direction. But it will take years to see a major difference. I even see a big difference compared to when I first moved here four years ago. And is there any doubt that this city’s conditions are MUCH better than they were in the early 90s?

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on April 18, 2014  9:15am

Philly2NH says, “Poverty, gangs, drugs, culture, these things don’t cause crime.”

Poverty and culture don’t, in themselves, cause crime.  But as long as drugs are illegal and gangs make money by selling them and then get into fights over turf, you bet your life that drugs and gangs cause crime.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 18, 2014  10:10am

This will turn into Stop and Frisk like they are doing In New York.Also B.S.Let us see what happens when summer comes.

posted by: Mary Brown on April 18, 2014  10:17am

Lt. Sharp is doing the right thing by sweating the small stuff. Where there is smoke there is fire. I hope he spends as much energy on community policing which includes mentoring so that he can build and maintain a positive climate and culture in Newhallville. One way to form positive relationships is through the mentoring program that was highly effective during Chief Wearing’s tenure. Instructing officers to explain to residents the rationale behind the stops is an intelligent and sensitive measure. Keep up the good work Sharp!

posted by: Philly2NH on April 18, 2014  1:12pm

Gretchen, I agree. What I was saying was that it’s economic policies that create the conditions in which poverty is born within and thrives. THEN comes the crime, the drugs, the gangs etc.

Globalization - supply side economics - poverty - crime.

I’m just sick of hearing it’s the gangs or drugs destroying a neighborhood, when it’s already a destroyed neighborhood that creates the gangs and drugs.

posted by: Semi Semi-Dikoko on April 18, 2014  1:28pm

Nice! The “Broken Windows Theory” always strikes back whenever it’s called upon, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory

posted by: Nathan on April 18, 2014  3:15pm

“Editor: Here’s one difference, according to the results of an exhaustive federal civil rights investigation: East Haven police singled out Latino drivers, ...while making threats against people who might expose them.]”

Here’s some more: the work in New Haven is over a tiny period of time compared to the scope of the East Haven investigation; the report produced by the Feds, which I read in its entirety, was weak for proof in some (but not all) of its claims; the Latino community is well-organized and focused politically compared to the fragmented Black communities, in part because the outstanding issue of illegal immigration is a significant dynamic in Latino communities; finally, East Haven has been a target in the sights of NHI and the Advocate before it for perceived injustice in the Jones case.  That East Haven’s police department had major issues is not debated, rather that similar law enforcement actions in two different communities are spun differently by the same press organization.

[Editor: We never questioned the policy in general of making traffic stops. We do question racial harassment, beatings of unarmed citizens, official lies and ccover-ups and threats. We do see a difference between that set of practices and officers making traffic stops.]

posted by: georgie on April 19, 2014  12:29am

Hooray for Lt Sharp! I am disgusted to see officers all over the city ignoring citizens breaking traffic laws everywhere. I drive 2 miles in NH to work every day, and it is a rare day that I do not see a car speeding or going through a red light. In addition, it is all too common to see children riding without seat belts and without car seats.  Minority children are disproportionately involved in serious car, pedestrian and bike accidents in their neighborhoods. So this is welcome news that there has been some enforcement of the traffic laws in this city. Who could possibly be against making minority neighborhoods safer places for those who live there? The cops are not just stopping people, they are stopping people who break the law! If one does not want to be stopped by a cop, just follow the few simple traffic laws learned in driving school. If not, pay the price of the inconvenience of being stopped and the price of the ticket. I have been literally BEGGING the police dept to come to my neighborhood and write some tickets (to no avail!), knowing that I too will be under increased scrutiny, but I have no plans to break any traffic laws.

I do agree with the other commenter however, that neighborhood residents should NOT be given preferential treatment in getting warnings, not tickets. If officers in predominantly white neighborhoods announced that they were going to give more tickets to black non-residents as compared to white residents, there would be QUITE an uproar from the black community (appropriately so). I think that the rules should be evenly applied, regardless if white, black or purple, resident or non-resident.  And BTW, officers, please come to lower Westville and write some tickets!

posted by: RhyminTyman on April 21, 2014  1:39pm

This is great! They should do this all over the city. The race [argument] is so incredible weak. It a black Lt. in a black neighbor giving black residents warnings instead of tickets. He is being up front and clear with. Don’t want to get pulled over don’t run that red. It is that simple.

posted by: Q-Bridge on April 21, 2014  8:32pm

I don’t understand why people like Ms Chapman are upset about this. Just obey the traffic laws and you won’t be pulled over. The police should expand this operation to include talking and texting while driving.