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Live From 1 Union: The Best Show In Town

by Paul Bass | Oct 24, 2012 4:38 pm

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

Paul Bass Photo NHPD In this week’s episode, word goes out that a wanted man said he wants to shoot cops. Another man has been grabbing girls’ necklaces in the Hill. Bar-goers are making too much noise on State Street. Patrol cops need more parking spaces. And detectives got back useful DNA data on an unsolved burglary—from 2009.

2009?!?

“These are repetitive crimes!” Assistant Chief Archie Generoso lamented about the burglary. Then he unveiled an idea for getting DNA lab results soon after a crime occurs rather than three years later.

Welcome to Tuesday’s version of Compstat, the best show in New Haven.

The two-hour crime data-sharing and accountability session has established a track record of creatively solving problems since Chief Dean Esserman revamped it earlier this year as part of his campaign to bring community policing back to town. The meetings began taking place weekly, not every six weeks; and doors were opened to the community and other law-enforcement agencies.

The growing supporting cast of 70 community players—top neighborhood cops, heads of police divisions, street outreach workers, federal and state law-enforcers, school officials, Yale researchers, child shrinks, city health and anti-blight inspectors—joined Esserman on the fourth floor of the the police department’s 1 Union Ave. headquarters Tuesday for what has emerged as one of New Haven’s most revealing weekly rituals.

At times it can feel like a headquarters scene out The Wire or Hill Street Blues. More often it has come to resemble a Yale School of Management-style case study in how to overhaul a large bureaucratic organization with a new philosophy.

In its more dramatic moments, the Compstat gathering may have helped save a life and catch a mother-son scam team the moment it came to town.

But as it has evolved over the past nine months, the most striking aspect of Compstat (which stands for “comparative statistics”)—one possible clue to why violent crime has dropped this year—may be the routine information-sharing and problem-solving.

Like the stuff that didn’t make headlines Tuesday.

Come see for yourself: a highlights reel follows.

Disappearing Icons

The room fills up quickly just before 10 a.m.; soon a few community members need to stand in the front and back doorways. Chief Esserman works the room, greeting people with handshakes. Then he takes his seat, and Assistant Chief Luis Casanova, who heads patrol and runs the meetings, calls everyone to order.

As usual, the meeting starts with introductions. All 70 of them. First go the cops seated in rolling chairs at the three tables arranged in a U in the center of the room. The nine “district managers” who run the city’s 11 policing districts (two temporarily have double duty) fill one table, the sergeants in blue shirts, the lieutenants in white. Top brass introduce themselves from the center table: Lt. Jeff Hoffman, officer in charge of patrol; Casanova, Esserman, Assistant Chiefs Thaddeus Reddish and Denise Blanchard and Generoso, Yale Chief Ronnell Higgins. At the third table the heads of the city police’s major crimes unit and bureau of identification join a minister working on a gang-violence reduction project with the cops, Rev. William Mathis; a top Yale cop, and a representative from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Then, from plastic chairs lining the room’s perimeter, follow introductions from suburban cops, railroad cops, academics, health-care workers, officials from the Board of Ed and Livable City Initiative, street outreach workers, Gateway Community College and Yale-New Haven Hospital police and security. Before they took their seats they found stapled 16-page photocopies of maps and charts showing crime breakdowns in each part of the New Haven over the past week, the past month, the year so far. The data show murders down 51.9 percent over the same period in 2011, shootings down 31.7 percent, burglaries and motor vehicle theft down, robberies up.

Detectives offer an update on a murder that took place Sunday night in an apartment complex off Whalley Avenue. They describe a break in the investigation as well as new information about the victim and the history of the apartment complex. They also ask the press keep the information off the record for now as the investigation proceeds—a regular request at these meetings, where officials trust members of the public with an unprecedented amount of privileged information for a government gathering. So far, that trust has been reciprocated.

Then district managers take turns reporting on the past week’s activity in their neighborhoods. As each one begins, two maps at a time flash from overhead projectors onto screens at the front of the room. One shows the current week’s neighborhood map with icons representing major crimes. The other shows the previous week’s map.

District 9, covering a huge swath of the East Shore from Morris Cove up through the Annex and Bishop Woods to the North Haven and East Haven lines, appears largely unblemished by icons. Morris Cove is completely untouched.

Anastasio’s map has been clean for weeks. That hasn’t always been the case.

Earlier this year icons from a dozen or more shootings and other major crimes would cover Anastasio’s maps. By the time he got done reporting on all the incidents and his frustrations with druggies and gang-bangers and dirt-bikers, his head would fall into his hands. Week by week he talked about strategies for dealing with the crime, both immediately in response to incidents and over time establishing relationships with kids in trouble. (Read about the latter here.) And week by week, the maps showed less major crime. That has happened in several districts across town.

Tuesday morning Anastasio sits straight as he reports on the past week. He brings up the case of a 15-year-old caught with a gun. Chief Esserman asks where he attends school. The answer: Wilbur Cross. The chief then turns to Sgt. Ricardo Rodriguez, the department’s point man for school-based cops; Rodriguez, used to getting grilled at Compstat, reports that he has already checked in with the school. Next street outreach worker Doug Bethea—whose independent agency used not to work that closely with the cops before this year, let alone attend Compstat—reports he, too, has been talking to the boy. Esserman then asks Bethea to meet afterwards with Kim Johnsky, a top school system administrator, to fill her in on the case.

When Sgt. Anthony Zona’s turn comes, he has a messier map to explain.

“Your burglaries are off the charts,” Assistant Chief Casanova tells him. “What’s going on?”

“I was on vacation,” Zona quips.

“Don’t do that again,” interjects Chief Esserman, eliciting chuckles.

It’s a running joke at these meetings, about how cops shouldn’t ever take vacations. Casanova does sometimes press district managers for explanations for crime upticks. But rarely does any real discipline or criticism take place in open view. That’s saved for later. For the most part tensions and rivalries remain behind closed doors, except perhaps to Kremlinologists.

Instead, managers come expecting Esserman to ask questions about their responses to his latest patrol emphases. He asks them to detail how they’re spending grant money the department received to pay for overtime walking cops, which officers they’re stationing where. In recent weeks he has started asking them to visit people’s homes to follow up on crimes or ongoing complaints; and then to report back on Compstat about whom they visited. Esserman makes a point to credit officers by name who do the follow-ups.

Today, in response to the burglary uptick, Zona proceeds to promise to check up on known thieves who have recently gotten out of jail. He discusses one burglary he checked out in which a landlady reported a lawn mower and a chunk of pipe went missing from a basement. Zona checked out a locked door to the basement, couldn’t open it. His conclusion: It’s an inside job by a workman.

He mentions thefts from autos parked at the Van Dome nightclub, people leaving iPads in view on the front seat. Esserman closes by praising Zona. Esserman faced 250 Fair Haven immigrants at a community meeting Sunday; they praised Zona for his hard work in the neighborhood, Esserman now reports.

Zona tends to speak up at Compstat. At one recent meeting Zona heard Yale police and other district managers describe attacks on people by kids on bikes; he piped up and suggested a citywide experiment in targeting the problem. Esserman challenged others in the room to think about it, offer suggestions; and a plan came together.

Today, after Zona finishes the Fair Haven report, he jumps into a discussion about the search for the mugger who has been taking the chains off girls’ necks in another district, Lt. Holly Wasilewski’s stretch of the Hill. Similar incidents have occurred in Fair Haven, he says. In one case, reports Sgt. Nick Marcusio (at right in photo), head of the robbery and burglary unit, a cop took a photo board to one of the Fair Haven victims to seek an identification; no luck.

Zona tells him about a store where one of the incidents occurred; “I know he has video cameras,” he says.

Moving to East Rock, several cops offer new details on the arrest of last week of a man robbing the perennially hit Shell gas station. It turns out Assistant Chief Reddish (pictured) had been driving nearby when he heard the call on the scanner, then rushed over with two officers to make the arrest. The man subsequently admitted to having robbed a Mobil station on State Street earlier that day; and a security video confirmed it.

“Who is this guy?” Esserman asks, swiveling to representatives in the room from state agencies. “Probation: Do you own him? Parole, do you own him?”

He turns to a woman from the state’s attorney’s office. “Is he in or out of jail?”

“In,” top East Rock cop Lt. Kenny Howell responds while the others are still tapping on their laptop computers in search of Esserman’s answer.

A detective adds that the arrestee buys heroin at the Farnam Court housing complex, “uses that up,” then goes on more robberies to restock.

“Nice grab, Chief Reddish,” Esserman remarks, after asking the state’s attorney’s office to “please get back to us” with confirmation that it will seek to convince a judge to keep the suspect in jail.

Asked about community meetings, Howell reports on an East Rock gathering where neighbors pressed him about late-night noise from Dempsey’s bar on State Street. He told Lt. Julie Johnson, who oversees traffic details. She confirms that she’s sending motorcycle cops to State Street on a late shift this coming weekend.

Howell has brought two photos for show-and-tell. He asks department data analyst Charles Anyinam, who’s seated at the back of the room, to project the photos onto one of the screens at the front of the room. A woman on Foster Street shot them with her cellphone when she saw a man stealing a bike; she forwarded them to the cops.

Anyone recognize this guy? Howell asks. Some other crimes are mentioned as possible fits. His colleagues scrutinize the photo, save the image in their mental caches.

The photo’s details are hard to read up on the screen.

“What does his hat say?” Esserman asks.

“I think,” quips Howell, eliciting another round of laughs in the room, “it says, ‘Compstat Forever.’”

Closer inspection reveals a different logo: Chicago White Sox.

In addition to the problems, managers report on “wins.”

• A serial downtown bank robber got caught; the room learns about the arrestee’s supposed 40-bag-a-day heroin habit and about the suspect confessing to another job in Newark. New Haven’s info enabled Newark to make its own arrest of the suspect..

• The playground behind Clemente School in the Hill has quieted down now that the Board of Ed has installed bright lights. At a recent Compstat meeting, top neighborhood cop Lt. Joe Witkowksi reported on how members of a new gang called Slut Wave had begun congregating there in the dark and causing trouble. Johnsky, a top school system administrator, happened to be in the room for the first time that day; she promised to fix the problem. Today she’s back in the room. She receives thanks for getting the lights turned on.

• No robberies show up on the report for Dwight-Kensington, a dramatic change from earlier in the year.

One burglary does appear on the map; new neighborhood District Manager Sgt. Rob Criscuolo is prepared to talk about it. It occurred in a house whose owner recently died, he says. Neighbors told him they saw a homeless man who used to do odd jobs for the owner hanging by the house. Criscuolo vows to follow up.

Plans are made:

• Asssistant Chief Blanchard reports on the pending completion of a plan to solve a long-term parking crunch for cruisers near the station.

• LCI Deputy Director Rafael Ramos asks for advice from Fair Haven cops before responding to a request from the owner of a troubled property for permission to rent it out again. A meeting is set up.

• Esserman in turn asks Ramos and some others to stay after today’s Compstat meeting to brief top cops on developments on Kensington Street, in advance of a police meeting with a major landlord there.

• Shirley Ellis of the street outreach workers team invites the room to a premiere showing of a movie her agency made with the U.S. Justice Department featuring local kids talking about violence.

“It’s a great movie,” says Esserman, who has seen it. “Can you show it at Compstat?”

Yes, Ellis responds, then continues: “Chief, get ready to get your tux on. We’re going to have a read carpet event [to show] how we appreciate the young people” who worked on the film.

Assistant Chief Generoso (pictured with Blanchard) tells the room about some of his own plans. He describes how the city just got back the DNA hit from the state lab for the 2009 burglary; how another one recently came for a 2010 case. (Detectives have had to wait a year or more for DNA results even on some murder cases.) Generoso says he has been working with other area departments to apply for a grant through the University of New Haven to pay for local DNA testing on burglary and robbery cases. The project would test the thesis that quicker DNA results will help solve burglaries and robberies faster. He’s confident about what the results would show.

Suddenly, Generoso, Marcusio and major crimes chief Sgt. Al Vazquez scoop up their papers and bolt from the room.

“With all the detectives running out of the room it better be good news,” Esserman remarks. “This better be about the [Sunday night] homicide.”

“Close,” Marcusio says on his way out. (It will turn out that marshals had located a felon wanted for an Oct. 14 shooting at Farnam Courts; detectives rushed to the scene to assist with the arrest. Scroll down in this story for details.)

As usual, Casanova turns the floor over to Esserman for parting words before the credits roll.

“Last thing I got is: We have 50 less officers than we had a year ago at this time. Fifty less officers,” Esserman begins.

“We’ve cut the homicide rate in half. We’ve brought the walking beat back. This is the only city in this state where violent crime is down dramatically.

“I owe a debt of gratitude, and so do the people of this city. It is remarkable the work that has been with 50 less officers.

“To everyone in this room and the rank and file, thank you.”

It’s 11:57 a.m., a few minutes earlier than usual. The formal meeting ends ...

... the schmoozing continues, and some of the real planning begins.

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posted by: anonymous on October 24, 2012  6:12pm

“Asssistant Chief Denise Blanchard reports on the pending completion of a plan to solve a long-term parking crunch for cruisers near the station.”

That’s good to hear. In the meantime, the NHPD continues to place many lives at risk each day by parking in the crosswalks there.

posted by: Wildwest on October 24, 2012  8:33pm

“and the schmoozing continues”

really, you guys need an op/ed section here at this news rag.

and a way to donate less than 120 bucks a year!

[Editor: Thanks for the suggestion! There is indeed a way to donate less. You can send a [tax-deductible] donation in any amount in a check made out to “Online Journalism Project” and mail it to New Haven Independent, c/o La Voz Hispana, 51 Elm St., 3rd floor, New Haven CT 06510.]

posted by: PH on October 25, 2012  10:23am

I know this has been bounced around a lot on by NHI commenters, but I witnessed the full dirt bike/ATV gang in action for the first time last weekend.  Holy crap!  About 20 of them blew through four stop signs at approximately 50 mph, laughing their heads off.  One cop car was tailing them, though I wonder to what end. I was with a group of 20 kids, they could easily have been maimed or killed if any of them had been in a crosswalk.  This is not just a noise or quality of life issue, this is a serious danger to pedestrians, drivers and the moronic bikers themselves.  Some of them looked to be well under 16. I hope the police figure out a way to set up some sort of trap to intercept these fools and impound all of their vehicles.

posted by: oldtimer on October 25, 2012  1:01pm

Very accurate title, Law and Order New Haven, staring Dean Esserman .

posted by: Ex-NHPD on October 25, 2012  6:37pm

My first comments about this article did not make it past the NHI censors.  They did make a correction to the story, based upon a mistake I pointed out. 

My comments are critical of Esserman and how he runs the Compstat Meetings.  I can not believe that with his vast Police Experience, he does not see the dangers and pitfalls of allowing “Law Enforcement Sensitive” Information being disseminated to non-Law Enforcement people at these meetings.  I include A.C. Generoso in this critique; turning to the press and saying “That’s not for print” is insufficient to protect the integrity of the case discussed, with so many eyes and ears there.

It is nice that these non-L.E. Agencies are present at the meeting. BUT,why are they allowed to be present when “a break in the investigation” of a Homicide is being discussed?  How do you make sure they do not repeat what they heard in the meeting, or control who they discuss it with? It is well within the realm of possibility that details of this ongoing Homicide Investigation have already reached the streets of New Haven, with the conduit being people who attended this Compstat Meeting.

Does the State’s Attorney Office bristle at such behavior?  How about the NHPD’s State and Federal L.E. Partners? What will these other Agencies do when Esserman asks them to divulge L.E. Sensitive info at meetings, and they decline?  Or if they refuse to keep attending?

Esserman can remedy this situation and still have his partners at the meeting.  He can invoke “Executive Session” during the meeting, where non-L.E. people are excused while sensitive details are discussed. They can still be part of the Best Show In Town, just not every scene.

As far as A.C. Blanchard and her plan to address the parking crisis at 1 Union, GOOD LUCK!  Both the City and every Chief have given little attention to this problem over the past 25 years. In the early 1990’s, then A.C. Esserman attended a Patrol Line-up where he promised that solving this issue was one of his first projects.  By the time he left the Department, it was still unsolved.  There have only been patchwork responses, with no long term solution.  It is crippling the NHPD in its ability to run smoothly, both for those who work there and those who come there for business or help.

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