Within seconds of parking their cruiser near the corner of Smith and Palmieri avenues, Officers Matt Wynne and Darryl Cargill had a hit.
“There it is,” Wynne said, as a silver Nissan Pathfinder rolled past a stop sign. Cargill stepped on the gas.
Moments later, the two cops had made a misdemeanor arrest. Not only had the woman behind the wheel of the Pathfinder run a stop sign; she was driving with a suspended license.
It was the fourth of 10 traffic stops that Wynne and Cargill made in just a couple of hours Wednesday afternoon. They pulled people over throughout Fair Haven Heights—drivers without seatbelts, with taillights out, texting or talking on cell phones, swerving out of their lane.
While the two veteran cops cracked down on traffic violations, their motor-vehicle blitz also served a second purpose: cracking down on summer violence.
Wynne and Cargill(left to right in photo) were working an extra-duty shift as part of the city’s Summer Anti-Violence Initiative (SAVI). This summer, the top cops in each of New Haven’s 10 policing districts have been authorized to assign an additional 40 hours per week of overtime, to ramp up police presence during the time of year when most violent crime occurs.
Since SAVI kicked in two weeks ago, East Shore District Manager Sgt. Vinnie Anastasio has been sending cops out on motor vehicle duty. That’s the first step toward identifying or preventing bigger problems, he reasoned.
“The bulk of community input is they want traffic enforcement,” Sgt. Anastasio said in his office on Woodward Avenue Wednesday. The East Shore has “lots of long arteries where speed is an issue, especially in Morris Cove.”
Getting drivers to slow down might not seem like the same as stopping gun violence, but the two missions are related, Anastasio said. Pulling cars over often leads to other kinds of enforcement, he said. “Who knows what we might find?”
A cop could encounter someone driving without insurance, or wanted on a warrant, or with drugs or a gun in the car. Traffic stops “open up other avenues of enforcement,” Anastasio said. (Earlier this year, Newhallville’s top cop reached a similar conclusion.)
Cargill and Wynne didn’t pull over any drug kingpins or arms traffickers on Wednesday, but they lit up the upper East Shore with flashing lights, spreading the message that cops are out in force. Meanwhile, across town in Newhallville, two other cops on SAVI duty ended up in the middle of a domestic quarrel over car keys.
All Day Long
Almost immediately after he pulled the cruiser out onto Woodward Avenue, Cargill began punching license plate numbers into a Panasonic Toughbook mounted in the police car’s center console.
“I run plates all day,” Cargill said; “60 percent of the time, I get a hit on it.”
The computer can tell Cargill if a car’s registration is expired or if a plate is registered for a different car than the one it’s on. (He has begun training cops in other neighborhoods in how to use a device that automatically scans license plates to check for violations.)
Meanwhile, Cargill and Wynne are also scanning the street, looking for drivers on their cell phones or not wearing seatbelts, or anything suspicious.
“I basically follow my instinct. If something draws your eye, there’s a reason for it,” Cargill said later.
Within minutes of deployment, the pair had an off-duty Milford cop pulled over on Quinnipiac Avenue, doing 40 in a 25 miles-per-hour zone in her white Chevy SUV. She got a written warning.
So did a woman driving a blue Honda CRV with New Hampshire plates. Cargill spotted her at the corner of Quinnipiac and East Grand, talking on her phone.
Running plates the whole way, Cargill and Wynne (pictured) worked their way to Smith and Palmieri, a troublesome intersection where people often run stop signs. On the way, they pulled over a woman on Middletown Avenue for driving without a seat belt.
As Cargill talked to the driver, Wynne approached the car carefully on the passenger side, checking to see if the three kids in the car were wearing belts. They were.
Wynne said he knows that cops can be frightening for kids in such situations. He said he tries to hang back to be as unimposing as a six-foot-three cop with tattoos and big biceps can be. He said he doesn’t want to look like “the Gestapo. ... I don’t want to make it a bad experience for them.”
While Wynne thought about his effect on others, he and Cargill are also constantly looking out for potential danger to themselves. At each traffic stop, as they approached the car on foot, they each briefly placed a hand on the trunk or taillight.
“Our DNA will be on the car,” Cargill explained. If, for instance, the driver pulls out a gun and shoots them, there would be DNA evidence linking the car to the cop.
The gentle touch is also a way to check if the trunk is really shut, Wynne said. There might be someone with a gun in there, waiting to pop up and start shooting, he said.
You might be pulling someone over for a missing tail light, and that person might think he’s being pulled over for the triple murder he just committed, Cargill said. That’s a dangerous man, and a possibly deadly situation.
After handing out three written warnings, the two cops made a misdemeanor arrest of the woman in the Pathfinder who ran the stop sign at Smith and Palmieri. They handed her a summons to appear in court later this month.
At the same intersection, they handed out their only ticket, to the driver of a white Dodge truck who ran the stop sign.
“You need to stop completely,” Cargill told the driver, when he protested that he had stopped at the sign.
“He’s argumentative,” Wynne noted as he and Cargill walked back the cruiser, where Cargill immediately pulled out his ticket pad.
Cargill said he decided on a ticket rather than a warning because the violation was so blatant and the driver had lied about it.
“I’ll see you in court,” the driver said, after taking the ticket.
“I love it when they say that,” Wynne said. He’s been in court dozens of times when people try to contest his tickets, he said. “I’ve never lost.”
The “Car” In “Cargill”
Immediately after pulling away from the Dodge truck, Cargill was back at it—tapping plate numbers in to the computer.
“The man’s a machine,” Wynne said. Cargill is known as a “signal-two guy,” a reference to the police code for a stolen car.
“He finds them all the time,” Wynne said. “You hear him all the time on the radio.”
That’s why, six months ago when Wynne’s son told him his Honda had been stolen, “I knew who to call.” He gave Cargill a description; Cargill found the car in a matter of hours.
Cargill, who grew up on Long Island, said he has always loved cars. “Ever since I was a kid.” He got his license the day he turned 16. His first car was a bright orange Datsun D210. “I painted it black.
What kind of car does he drive now? “Depends what day it is.”
Cargill has a 2003 Chevy, a 2012 Lexus, a 2002 Dodge Ram pickup, and a 2002 Ford Mustang.
When he’s not behind one of those cars, he likes to be in his cruiser, doing traffic stops.
“I love motor vehicle” duty, he said. ““I’m into cars. I like cars. I like to run plates. It’s just exciting to me.”
Wynne and Cargill pulled over four more drivers in rapid succession—texting, no front plate, no brake light, swerving over the lane line—and handed out written warnings to each.
No more than a couple of minutes went by between stops.
Is it always like this?
“With Darryl it is,” Wynne said.
As their cruisers flashing lights lit up a pulled-over Honda Accord, Cargill and Wynne reflected on the effectiveness of traffic stops in preventing violent crime.
Just seeing cops on the street makes an area safer, Wynne said. “We’re out here being visible. That translates.”
“Nobody’s going to commit a robbery when we’ve got the whole block lit up,” Cargill said.
Back on the hunt, Cargill spotted a Toyota Echo that looked suspicious. “Run that for me?” he said to Wynne.
Wynne punched in the Echo’s plate number—expired registration. Cargill turned on the flashing lights.
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