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Church St. South Murder Reveals Extra-Duty Gap

by Paul Bass | Oct 3, 2012 2:41 pm

(2) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: The Hill

Paul Bass Photo The extra-duty cop went home at 7 p.m. A half-hour later a 6-year-old boy stared at his father’s bullet-ridden body in a stairwell.

That happened Sept. 18 at the Church Street South housing complex across from Union Station.

The boy’s father, Joseph Mirvil, died, three days short of his 29th birthday. The police swiftly solved the murder; Wednesday they held a press conference detailing the arrest of a 20-year-old man for the crime.

Mirvil’s family showed up at police headquarters to thank them for their quick work.

Afterwards, back at the stairwell where the shooter allegedly killed Mirvil in the concrete cinder block housing complex’s Malcolm Court building, his survivors noted who wasn’t around that night: an extra-duty police officer. They noted that over the past two years the management of the 301-apartment complex—Northland Investment Corporation of Boston, which derives most of its income from Section 8 subsidies—has scaled back on the number of extra-duty cops it hires. It used to have paid patrols seven days a week. Now it’s four days a week, for maybe five hours a day.

Also, under a citywide rule instituted two years ago, the officers who do show up for extra-duty work are regularly rotated.

In that time, three murders have taken place at Church Street South: Mirvil on Sept. 18; Issah Gantt on April 20, 2011; Troy Perry on May 25, 2010.

Marie Mirvil, Joseph’s older sister, said Wednesday that she sees a connection.

And now officials are considering whether to revive “hold-downs,” or permanent extra-duty beat assignments, at housing complexes like Church Street South.

“When they had the extra [officers], there was hardly any crime here,” said Mirvil, who has lived in the complex for eight years and was planning to have her brother accompany her down the aisle at her wedding in November. “Now anything can happen.”

She called it a “50-50” chance that the presence of an extra-duty cop could have prevented the shooter from killing her brother.

In any case, argued her fiance, Najee Muhammad, an extra-duty cop would have arrived at the scene earlier and had a better chance of saving Joseph’s life.

Mirvil said that since the city started rotating the cops who do the extra-duty work, tenants don’t get to know them as well.

“Sheena!”

Lt. Jeff Hoffman, who oversees patrol, said Wednesday he’d like to see Church Street South’s management increase the number of extra-duty cops it hires, to cover at least each evening. The on-site manager at the complex, Charmaine Chavis, referred questions Wednesday to a corporate office in Hartford; the person who answered the phone was unaware the company owns a housing complex in New Haven. Calls for comment left with Northland officials in the main corporate office were not returned by deadline for this story. Northland has been struggling with financial problems; this week lost a third major Hartford office tower to foreclosure. (Click here and here to read about frustrations people in New Haven have been having with the company’s management, including the time city officials had to chase the landlord to eliminate a deadly CO threat.)

Right now the complex hires extra-duty cops four days a week. And they don’t always work nights. On Sept. 18, one extra-duty cop worked the 2 to 7 p.m. shift, according to Lt. Holly Wasilewski, a top Hill neighborhood cop.

At 7:21, the alleged shooter of Joseph Mirvil filed multiple bullets into his body on the top step of the stairwell (pictured) leading to the second floor of one of the Malcolm Court entrances. Mirvil’s grandmother lives there; he showed up to visit his 6 year-old son.

“Sheena!” he reportedly cried out after getting hit. That’s the first name of his ex-girlfriend, Sheena Steed, who is the mother of his son.

Medics tried to revive him with CPR down at the ground-floor landing. He was later pronounced dead at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Sgt. Al Vazquez, the police department’s chief of detectives, said that police have not previously arrested Mirvil. He was not known to be involved in crime. Vazquez declined to cite a motive for the shooting or offer many details; the warrant has been sealed because the investigation is ongoing. Vazquez did say Mirvil and the alleged shooter knew each other.

The 6-year-old son did not witness the murder, according to Vazquez. He came outside afterwards and saw his father’s body.

Detectives eventually interviewed the boy with the help of clinicians from Yale Child Study Center, who have been working with the boy, the way they regularly help children who witness violence.

Sheena Steed said Wednesday that her son is “doing OK. He misses his dad.” She praised the work of the people from Yale Child Study.

As detectives investigated the murder, they found “multiple” witnesses willing to provide information, according to Vazquez. That helped them gather enough evidence to obtain an arrest warrant in under two weeks. The arrest marked the latest in a string of homicides the department has been solving; officials said members of the public have increasingly helped them as a revival of community policing has built trust between citizens and cops. Read about that here.

Hold-Downs

A new community policing question has arisen from Mirvil’s murder: Should New Haven revisit its hold-down ban?

Former Police Chief James Lewis banned the longstanding practice in early 2010. Before that, for 40 years, bar owners, for instance, got to pick which cops would work at their clubs. Individual cops would come to “hold down” specific lucrative extra-duty jobs at specific clubs. (The owners pay for the cops for extra-duty jobs; the department decides whom to assign there.) Lewis called the practice a dangerous conflict of interest: The officers come to rely on bar owners to pay them, and therefore have an inherent incentive to look the other way if the club owner breaks the law or acts responsibly. The police union called the practice a positive way to build relationships between bar owners and cops, one that enables an officer to get know a facility and police it better. (Click here to read about the debate at the time.)

At Church Street South, tenants no longer know the officers who work extra-duty, said Marie Mirvil (at right in above photo, with Najee Muhammad). Before the hold-down ban, “everyone knew them” and could more easily share information. That’s a basic tenet of community policing, the reason the department has put regular walking beats in all 10 neighborhood districts this year.

The cop Mirvil and everyone else at Church Street South still seems to know, Lt. Wasilewski, has worked in the area for 11 years. (She’s currently a district manager in the Hill.) She said officers who work a regular hold-down beat get a better handle on who belongs in the complex and who doesn’t; when they ask a visitor whom he’s visiting, for instance, they can more easily discern if the visitor invents a story. (Click here to read a story by the Register’s William Kaempffer about concerns expressed by tenants as far back as 2010.)

Chief Dean Esserman said Wednesday that officials are “starting a conversation” about whether to experiment with bringing back hold-downs—just for housing complexes. “I’m hearing the concern,” he said.

“I think be willing to take a look at that” in conjunction with the chief and exploring some potential legal concerns, city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts said.

Police Union President Lou Cavaliere, Jr., welcomed the idea.

“It would have to approved by membership. But this is something members wanted to keep in the first place. We never wanted to get rid of hold-downs,” Cavaliere said. “It provided consistency. The same officers working the same beats and knowing the players.”

“Obviously if there was a police officer stationed there routinely” at Church Street South, Cavaliere said, maybe the most recent murder could have been avoided.

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posted by: anonymous on October 3, 2012  2:46pm

For the price of one “extra duty” officer who “might” be there when a shooting happens, couldn’t we have 3 Downtown Ambassadors (hired from the Hill neighborhood & trained) patrolling the complex at all times and also extend the cleaning services there (also hired from the Hill neighborhood & trained), so that the place is less likely to attract crime in the first place?

posted by: HhE on October 3, 2012  9:41pm

This is a tragedy, and my sympathies to to the victim’s family.

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