Gang-Violence Project Kicks Off

Paul Bass PhotosFirst they called in the Tre. Then they called in the ‘Ville. Finally, they called in the governor and President Obama’s attorney general—to launch a new project to stop gang-fueled carnage on the streets of Connecticut’s cities.

The new effort has a name: “Project Longevity.” After a year of quiet planning, it was launched with two gang “call-ins” at New Haven’s Hall of Records late Monday involving 27 alleged members of the city’s two most violent gangs, based in the Dwight-Kensington and Newhallville neighborhoods; then with a high-profile press conference a block away Tuesday morning with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Gov. Dan Malloy.

Holder arrived at the press conference shortly before 11 a.m. Project Longevity will “send a powerful message” about the justice system’s determination to wipe out gang violence, he said.

Malloy has vowed to take what’s starting in New Haven and spread it to Bridgeport and Hartford to tackle the one major type of crime that has stubbornly refused to drop in Connecticut: the shooting of young black males on urban streets.

A version of the approach has helped stop young black men from killing each other in cities from Boston to Cincinnati. It involves federal and state prosecutors and agents working alongside city cops and community leaders to deliver an ironclad promise to the relatively small group of gang-bangers responsible for the majority of bloodshed: A promise to help them get out the life and go straight—or to lock them and all their gang associates up for a long time if they keep shooting.

This is the first time that the approach is being tried out in an entire city (New Haven) rather than just a neighborhood or two at a time. It would also be the first time the program expands beyond one city within a state.

It all starts with the “call-in.”

Which is not a “round-up” or a “sweep” (such as this).

“We’re not soldiers at war,” said New Haven Chief Dean Esserman, whose arrival in town last year got Project Longevity going. (Read about that here and here.)

“We’re doing something law enforcement has never done [here before]. No surprises. No ambush. No sweeps. No handcuffs.”

Rather, cops and law-enforcement agents spent close to a year zeroing in on the just under 550 people considered prime players in some 19 active gangs—or “groupings” or loose associations of troublemakers. They worked alongside prosecutors and alongside experts from the University of Cincinnati who have developed a system for charting social networks of gang associates. They poured over files of every shooting over the past years, mined databases, shared notes, connected dots from reports about who was in the car with whom during arrests.

They enlisted the help of local ministers and political figures and educators and social-service chiefs. They got a special federal prosecutor assigned to take on cases growing out of the project. A top aide to Gov. Malloy, Mike Lawlor, dived in, too, and arranged for gang-bangers to get assured job-training or drug counseling or continuing education slots.

Then, at 4 p.m. Monday, 11 members of the Tre-Kensington Bloods filed in to the Hall of Records basement meeting room. All of them are on parole or probation for violent offenses.

The alleged gang members sat in the front two rows. In the audience sat Timothy Miller, the father of the 16-month-old. He was called in as an alleged gang member. He denied that he was one. Cops set up organizational charts of the gang, complete with the alleged members’ photographs. Community leaders sat in the back.

Rev. William Mathis, whom the local cops hired to staff Project Longevity, laid out the message: We care about you. We want you to stop shooting each other. We have people right here who will give you help. We also have officers and prosecutors here who will make sure that you will do hard time if you leave here and start shooting again.

Mathis informed the group, which sat silently through the presentation, of the “new rules”: If any member of their group shoots someone, all the assembled law enforcement agencies in the room will swoop down on everyone. They will arrest everyone possible in the group, whether for violation of parole or probation, owing money to the IRS, violating a housing authority lease, or for more serious offenses.

Esserman reminded the group of the way law enforcement worked around the clock to track down the people allegedly responsible for shooting a 16-month-old boy on Kensington Street last month. That will happen, swiftly, to not just shooters, but the whole organization in the future if the shooting continues, the chief said.

Assistant Chief Archie Generoso, Assistant U.S. Attorney (and local pastor) Keith King, Assistant State’s Attorney David Strollo, Pastor Todd Foster of Church on The Rock, state Rep. Toni Walker all spoke too.

So did Alicia Caraballo. She spoke as principal of the city’s adult ed program on Ella Grasso Boulevard (where Toni Walker works, too). She spoke, as well, as the mother of a homicide victim in New Haven, Justin Davis. “I love every one of you,” Caraballo told the young men in the room, according to participants present in the room. She also underscored that she and the other adults in the room were committed to seeing that anyone who continues shooting will serve long sentences, like the man who killed her son. That killer, Brandon “Fresh” Bellamy, was feared in his day, she said. He committed a double murder. But when he went to trial, no one from his crew showed up to court. He was on his own. He earned a 100-year sentence. (Click on the play arrow to the video at the top of this story to watch her reprise the speech at Tuesday press conference.)

The visitors each left Monday’s call-in with the the name and phone number of an outreach worker to contact to follow with for help.

At 6 p.m. another group, 16 alleged gang members from the ‘Ville, came in for the same presentation.

William “Juneboy” Outlaw, a former gang member who became a street outreach worker, said the cops delivered a “loud and clear” message.

As a result, the young men he works with in Newhallville took notice, Outlaw reported after the event.

“My kids were very receptive. A lot told me they were going to spread the word,” Outlaw said. “The police were blunt. My kids understood.”

A “Permanent” New Strategy

Then, at 11 a.m. Tuesday, a press conference took place at the 25th-floor U.S. Attorney’s Office on Church Street featuring Holder and Malloy announcing that the project had just begun. Members of the other 17 gangs will be brought in for New Haven call-ins. And Bridgeport and Hartford officials have already signed on to launch the program in their cities, part of the Malloy administration’s promise earlier this year to create a “focused” policing strategy.

“We’re trying to make this a permanent feature of law enforcement,” said Mike Lawlor, the undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning for the state Office of Policy and Management.

Connecticut is enjoying its lowest levels of major crimes in decades, Lawlor (pictured after Tuesday’s press conference) said, with one major exception: shootings in cities. Out of 129 Connecticut homicides last year, 94 took place in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford.

In New Haven, 98 percent of the victims of those shootings have been African-American men.

“We’ve all been to too many hospitals, too many wakes, too many funerals,” Esserman said at the press conference.

Attorney General Holder praised the Project Longevity for representing “smart,” not just “tough” policing. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal spoke of how such “smart ” policing that relies on agencies working together and targeting criminal activity more precisely will become ever more important amid tough fiscal times for government.

After the press conference, state NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile called the project “a step in the right direction” while sounding a few notes of skepticism. He criticized the lack of benchmarks to measure the project’s success. And he called for a more focused effort at jobcreation and job-training; otherwise, he said, younger kids will simply keep replacing the gangbangers sent to prison.

“I’ve been watching this over the years. When we got rid of the Jungle Boys and KSI and the Island Brothers and the Newhallville Dogs, the little ones picked it up,” Esdaile said, ticking off gangs dismantled by joint city-federal operations in the 1990s.

Officials have credited Project Longevity-style efforts with reducing the homicide rate by 30 percent or more in parts of Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Providence, and other cities across the country.

In Chicago, though, a new wave of killings has paralyzed the city despite the introduction of the program. At the press conference Tuesday, Connecticut U.S. Attorney David Fein was asked about that, and whether Connecticut can learn any lessons from that fact in bringing the program here. He didn’t offer an answer. Afterwards, the guru of the national strategy, John Jay College sociologist David Kennedy, said that in fact while murders have risen 37 percent in Chicago this year, they have dropped 40 percent in the two neighborhoods where his program took hold.

The same team of experts who have refined the program elsewhere worked on the New Haven effort. They included guru Kennedy and New Haven’s Chief Esserman, who brought the program to his previous job in Providence and has served with Kennedy on the national U.S. Department of Justice-backed group refining the experiments, Project Safe Neighborhoods.

A Chance Airport Encounter

Esserman recalled that he saw New Haven Mayor John DeStefano carrying David Kennedy’s book on the project (Don’t Shoot) when he ran into him at Ronald Reagan National Airport in the summer of 2011.

DeStefano was flying home that day to New Haven, Esserman to Providence. They ended up talking for an hour and a half while they waited for their planes. They talked about Kennedy’s ideas. And they talked about Esserman coming to New Haven to take over as chief as revive community policing.

Esserman came later in the year, after DeStefano allies got battered in aldermanic elections based in part on public outcry to bring back community policing.

Thomas MacMillan File PhotoEsserman has since done that, reviving walking beats, creating a shootings task force, among other projects. And from the start he brought in David Kennedy to plan what would become “Project Longevity” in New Haven.

Within a month of his arrival in town, Esserman and Kennedy joined cops, former gangbangers, and others at a community forum at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, sponsored by the Independent, to begin discussing the concept with the public. (Read about that here.) Initial reaction was skeptical from some of the reaction from activists in the black community, signalling that the department would have to work hard to gain trust, not just for Project Longevity, but for community policing in general.

Meanwhile, US. Attorney David Fein had been talking with Kennedy about doing a version of his project in Connecticut. Soon Fein, Mike Lawlor, and their offices were working hand in hand with Esserman’s cops, including Generoso and top detective Sgt. Al Vazquez. They held countless meetings to share and chart information and plan strategy over the course of a year.

Over the past year, University of New Haven has been working with the University of Cincinnati researchers with an eye to taking an increasing role as the program expands here; former Branford Police Chief John DeCarlo, who teaches at UNH, has been part of that team. State’s Attorney Mike Dearington has bought in, as have New Haven’s “two Tonis”—state legislators Walker and Toni Harp —who helped secure $500,000 to keep the effort going statewide. Locally, Aldermen Jorge Perez and Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, among others, have participated actively in the planning, as has Barbara Tinney of the New Haven Family Alliance.

Two Yale academics who worked on reducing gang violence in Chicago—Tracey Meares and Andrew Papachristos—dived in to the program as well.

As the first call-in approached, Esserman doubled back to fortify community support—considered a crucial marker of success in other cities. He held 36 separate one-on-one and small-group sessions with aldermen, street outreach workers, clergy, and state legislators. As in other cities that have queued up David Kennedy’s strategy, organizers feel that they can ultimately succeed only if they can convince the broader community to believe in the strategy, and sign on.

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posted by: anonymous on November 27, 2012  12:19pm

Congratulations to those working on this. The outreach and counseling idea is great. If we want to fix poverty and gang issues for one man, we must provide these type of services to a man.

But if we want to fix poverty and gang issues for generations, we must provide these type of services to women. 

Even if we take 500 male gang members off the streets, a worthwhile accomplishment, 500 more will move in and be there the next year.  While investing in at risk men is a great idea, this clearly isn’t the solution that Connecticut needs. 

Toni Harp is investing millions in criminal justice systems and programs, while the rate of women, mothers, and children living in poverty continues to skyrocket as municipal budgets collapse, worker rights erode, infrastructure decays, and segregation increases in Connecticut.

Without addressing the underlying causes, crime will only increase, no matter how big this new program gets.

posted by: Curious on November 27, 2012  1:21pm

Anon, there’s not a single solution that gets rolled out that you don’t have a better alternative for, is there?  I’m honestly shocked that you didn’t say this money and effort should be better used on the proposed tram system.

posted by: anonymous on November 27, 2012  3:05pm

Curious, we just need to be realistic.

Currently, we are constantly misleading, if not outright lying to, the general public with promises about how a program of this scope will significantly reduce violence.

Read the newspapers going back to 1990. It’s been one press conference after another for the past 20 years (with DeLauro and DeStefano at nearly all of them). There are many air travel receipts and many expensive, fancy reports sitting on the old hard disk drives at City Hall. But if you average out the noise, the simple fact is that our homicide rate is essentially unchanged.  Hundreds upon hundreds of young men have died. Where is the outrage?

In reality, a program like this is nice but will have little overall impact in the long run. For that to be achieved, we need to immediately address more systemic conditions in our cities.  These include the fact that urban schools are failing, housing is unaffordable even when both parents work, that transportation is by far the largest barrier to jobs access, and the fact that Governor Malloy is even now spending $500M to bring even more jobs out to the suburbs (e.g., Jackson Labs) very far away from where black men live.

I suppose Scot Esdaile said it better than I did:

“He criticized the lack of benchmarks to measure the project’s success. And he called for a more focused effort at job creation and job-training; otherwise, he said, younger kids will simply keep replacing the gangbangers sent to prison.”

Of course, the default reaction when a program of any scope is proposed is to praise it, and then go enjoy the donuts and photo opp.  But when a leader takes action to help 1 person, and then rests on their laurels while the other 99 persons that they could have helped continue to cry for help, we should see that as a cause for constructive criticism rather than a cause for praise. We should only give praise when it’s due - only when people take the concrete and necessary steps to help all 100 persons.

Until this happens we are just passing the problem off to someone else. That’s what has been done for the past 15 years.

posted by: Honest in New Haven on November 27, 2012  3:20pm

This looks like an academic’s dream.  Where’s Harvard?  I agree that until the underlying issues of education and job training are addressed, this is destined to be a bandaid.

posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on November 27, 2012  3:22pm

This seems like a very humane approach. I appreciate the deliberate dropping of a war stance and at-war language.  Getting supportive social services, community outreach and police with young people in the same room makes sense.

This is ambitious, and yet it feels like something that could make a difference.  The key to anything is long term commitment to the process and the refraining from quick and easy answers and or results.  Shared responsibilities with clear hard-hitting consequences.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on November 27, 2012  3:52pm

Extremely passionate, courageous and painful call as only mothers who loses a son can be.

Hope she’s knows that this heroic call can make her a target form those people who thinks “guns” are only ones that make them be heard their voice, but specially I hope the people that is behind her (the video) do not left her a long, because they will go home but she will be living in the same area where she experienced her loss.

Thank you very much for be the female voice of this desperate call.

posted by: anonymous on November 27, 2012  4:05pm

Claudia wrote: “I hope the people that is behind her do not left her a long, because they will go home but she will be living in the same area where she experienced her loss.”

Exactly the point I made above. As a next step, NHPD’s crime analyst should create a map of where all the high-paid officials, lawyers, and academics in this room live. Then we can see how much of the money being spent on this project is actually going back to the neighborhoods that are constantly left behind.

posted by: Webblog1 on November 27, 2012  5:29pm

Rev Mathis informed the group, of the “new rules”:

“If any member of their group shoots someone, all the assembled law enforcement agencies in the room will swoop down on everyone. They will arrest everyone possible in the group, whether for violation of parole or probation, owing money to the IRS, violating a housing authority lease, or for more serious offenses”.

Is the Rev for real???

Not even Holder,Fein or Lawlor could buy into this phony arrest and prosecution reasoning.

Back to the drawing board..what’s plan B,C,&D??

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on November 27, 2012  5:39pm

Why would a young man or woman, raised from childhood into the “gang” culture, surrender the source of their family’s earnings, and status in their neighborhood, for “legitimate” work, that does not even exist? 23% unemployment for Afro-Americans; close to 50% for those under the age of 23. Where does one suggest they go to earn a respectable wage.

Organized labor, which for decades has worked to increase the wages and benefits of all working families, has been weakened by the use of propaganda in the press to demonize unions, and mold public opinion against them by an American public that still trusts press owned and controlled by the same super wealthy trying to break all unions to just increase their profits.

So why should theses young people born into gang culture fear prison? Most of their role models have done time and been shot. Can any of the people preaching and the press claim the same credentials? They might then have some credibilty with the gangsters they are trying to impress. This is another orchestrated press event for those in power to promote their own careers to another position of more power and higher salary.Or to at least be able to claim that they tried to do something, even if it fails.

Good Luck, but the person who named past gangs, that just came back by different names with a new generation is right, it’s not the guns, it the loss of hope for middle income famalies that live in these neighborhoods who wanted nothing more that a fair wage for a good days work. NewHallville, Lower Dixwell, the Dwight Neighborhood, and all the other neighborhoods that suffer with the prescence of gangs over the past thirty years, saw the destruction of their neighborhoods, the same as those in the valley, with the loss of thousands of honest work, where the labor recived fair compensation for themselves and their famalies.

posted by: formerNhresident on November 27, 2012  5:57pm

I am curious to know if street outreach worker and former gang member quoted in this article, William Junebug Outlaw, is related to the other William Outlaw featured in another article also published by NHI

posted by: anonymous on November 27, 2012  6:30pm

JustAnotherTaxPayer, your analysis is absolutely correct and one of the best comments that I have ever read on the Independent. My only minor issue with it is that in many cases, the unions themselves bear a significant portion of the blame for their own decline. As you can see from the article above, our own local union leaders are among the people at the table. They have lost their passion for social equity, their leaders have moved out to the suburbs, they have now abandoned those same neighborhoods that everyone else has abandoned, and they now advocate for more construction (like that infamous new school in the Hill) and free parking spaces for their own membership far more often than they advocate for meaningful systemic policy change. A few unions are still progressive, particularly at a national level - but if we’re going to save this country, we need other voices to help lift up what they are doing.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 27, 2012  6:41pm

The real gangsters are the politicians.The system creates the illusion of democracy but at the end of the day all we get is the choice between 2 parties of gangsters.They are all making money off of this.Cops lawyers Judges Doctors minsters.This will never stop.Money is to be made from this.All governments today are controlled by corporations.Caesar controlled a corporation, the Roman Empire Corporation and it is the same today.People Wake up Again you are Being sold Three Card Monte and Snake-Oil.

Three Card Monte Street Hustle.

Snakeoil Salesman.

posted by: cp06 on November 27, 2012  8:48pm

Is the street outreach worker in this story, William “Juneboy” Outlaw, related to William Outlaw IV, from yesterday’s story, “Outlaw Surrenders, Tells his Side” ?
[editor: Yes. He is the young man’s father.]

posted by: HhE on November 28, 2012  9:59pm

I am prepared to wait to see this fail before I declare it DOA.  Which is to say, I do NOT expect it to fail, I just tire of everyone declaring a plan no good before it even starts just because it is not going to overcome all the systemic problems of our city. 

Yes Weblog1, the federal and state governments have the resources and means to go after everyone in a particular group with anything and everything.  Just look at the attention and methods they use when they really, really, want to get someone or group.  They just do not have the means to do this to everyone.

As far as a Drux Ex Machina coming down from on high to dispense full employment and all that, it is not going to happen.  As much as I wish it would, I’m not certain it even ought to.

posted by: Claudia Herrera on November 29, 2012  1:01am

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posted by: random on December 1, 2012  2:25pm

I am saddened by yet another dog and pony show in New Haven. Another wasteful"initiative” to stop gun violence. This latest is simply sickening to say the least.The governor is prepared to cut programs to help the needy, while granting government workers huge raises and now Appropriations is prepared to spend half a billion on what? Salaries for people to sit behind the scenes and plan while our kids die early deaths?  This so called program is just another excuse to terrorize whole groups of people for the actions of a few and to further divide our communities. These actions by law enforcement are the very reason our children are so angry.They can’t ride a bike,sit on a porch with friends,walk down the street,ride around in a car,stand on the sidewalk without being stopped,searched and interrogated.They take out their rage on themselves or others in the community.The only real experts in the room seem to be Barbara Tinney and Scot X. I wholeheartedly agree with anonymous. You have said all that I would have said. I believe there are few in that room who love our children, know their struggle or even care.The real work begins there.If we never address societal conditions that breed crime and violence New Haven will have the same results as Chicago where US Atty Holder resides…Temporary reduction and months later an uprising. We will spend millions to keep more people outside our community employed and effectively change nothing except the size of the prison population, feed the egoes of the clueless and keep people employed who could care less if Black men kill each other every single day. It’s time to stop the grandstanding. It has been continuous since Esserman rode into town.I’m sure the community will agree….we are sick of it. Our kids are dying everyday and all we get in return are photo ops.Invest in tracking the flow of guns into New Haven,.Bridgeport and Hartford and prosecute THOSE individuals to the full extent of the law and beyond.Have a “call-in” of strawbuyers who provide the guns and give them long sentences.If any one of these “experts” believe that these dog and pony show is going to effectively impact an individual squandering in poverty,hopelessness, drug addiction,homelessness,unemployment and despair I have a bridge to sell.