A snapshot of crime stats released Thursday shows a steady decline in shootings and homicides.
The snapshot was prepared in the form of two charts, distributed at the weekly Compstat crime data-sharing meeting at police headquarters.
The charts compared the number of homicides, non-fatal shootings, and shots fired around town from Jan. 1 through July 27 for 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. The numbers declined each year in each category except for a slight uptick in 2014 shootings.
Crime data is tricky to analyze:
• The percentage change in homicides, for instance, can vary widely year to year based on a multiple-victim murder of two, or domestic-violence incidents unrelated to police strategy. The same is true for shootings, though a bit less so, since the city has more of them each year. Also, it is difficult to ascribe one reason for a decline or rise in violence.
• Police strategy and staffing clearly play a role, as suggested by a relative lull in violence this summer coinciding with the addition of overtime beat patrols citywide (as part of a $500,000 effort called SAVI, or Summer Anti-Violence Initiative). Similarly, periodic city-state-federal law-enforcement busts of gangs or drug-dealing operations often produce drops in crimes until newer gang-bangers or dealers fill the void. Violence-prevention efforts, from police follow-ups to street-outreach worker interventions to the growing summer Police Athletic League camp, are all widely believed to help, as is the Project Longevity initiative targeting top offenders. All those efforts can defy meaningful statistical measurement.
• Snowstorms can keep potential criminals inside; heat waves can bring them outside and spark tensions. Sometimes the city gets lucky, sometimes unlucky.
• Social scientists debate the role of forces beyond police control, from poverty to family breakdowns, and the release of ex-offenders from jail back into the community without meaningful job prospects.
• And statistics look different depending on what baseline is used: This comparison starts with the peak of the most recent surge in street violence, mid-2011, at which point the city brought in a new police chief with a directive to reinstitute community policing.
All that said, for whatever reason, based on this multi-year snapshot, fewer people are undoubtedly being shot in New Haven. The number still remains plenty high compared to national averages, and efforts continue to keep bringing it down.