Project Longevity Divides Mayoral Hopefuls

One said it unfairly targets black people. Two others applauded the basic concept—though one said it took the city too long to embrace it and still needs more government back-up.

Those views emerged Thursday morning about New Haven’s “Project Longevity” as the three announced candidates for mayor gathered for their first joint forum.

The New Haven Register hosted the forum from 8 to 9 a.m. and live-streamed it on its website. The Register’s Shahid Abdul-Karim (at left in photo) moderated the discussion with Democratic candidates (from left next to Abdul-Karin) Gary Holder-Winfield, a Newhallville state representative; Sundiata Keitazulu, a Newhallville plumber; and Justin Elicker, an East Rock alderman. All three are seeking to succeed Mayor John DeStefano, who plans to retire at year’s end after two decades in office. Other candidates are expected to emerge in coming weeks.

The three offered differing takes on Project Longevity, a joint federal-city-community campaign that targets violent drug gangs.

The project began late last year as part of Police Chief Dean Esserman’s broader efforts to revive community policing in New Haven.

Modeled on successful similar programs in other cities, Project Longevity identifies the small number of people committing the most shootings in town; maps out their gang affiliations, then brings them to “call-ins” with prosecutors, cops, social workers, educators, and community leaders. At the call-ins, they’re told that if any one member of the gang commits a shooting, law enforcement will swoop down on all members of the gang and lock them up on any charges they can find. Prosecutors vow to give the cases highest priority. At the same time, leaders offer immediate front-of-the-line spots in programs offering job-training, housing, continuing education if the gang-bangers agree to go straight. Click here to read more about it; click on the play arrow to watch the principal of New Haven’s Adult Ed deliver the program’s message.

Since Project Longevity’s roll-out late last year, the city has grown relatively quieter. After a 50 percent drop in murders and 30 percent drop in shootings in 2012, violent crime has continued dropping precipitously so far in 2013. It’s too early to attribute the drop on any one of a host of new community-policing initiatives or to judge the long-term impact.

So far, Elicker said in the Register forum Thursday morning, he likes what he sees in Project Longevity.

“It’s early to tell if it will be successful in New Haven. It’s not going to fix the problem. I think we need to combat this problem of violence in our cities from many aspects,” Elicker remarked.

That said, Project Longevity “has been successful in other cities for two reasons. One it is a stick, in that we bring folks in and say, ‘We take this seriously. We know who you are. Knock it off.’ ... Number two, there’s a carrot.”

He said he has reviewed literature on current best practices in American policing, and Project Longevity is included among them. So are some other tools New Haven has been using, he said, including the ShotSpotter system (which electronically alerts cops the instant gun shots are fired) and a “cops on the dots” approach. That approach includes stationing officers not just in the general areas, but on the very address where crimes have been occurring. Research in other cities has shown that, contrary to instinctual logic, the crime does not all simply move to other blocks.

Holder-Winfield, for his part, expressed some skepticism about cops on the dots: A criminal who wants to commit a crime will find somewhere to commit it, he argued.

Like Elicker, he did embrace the general concept of Project Longevity.

Holder-Winfield said that he and other community activists called for the same concept in 2007 at a Dixwell event calling for a “Zero Killings” campaign. Read about that event here.

“At the time we were told that was crazy,” he said. He said it shouldn’t have taken the city so long to listen to the community. Now that Project Longevity has started, the city needs to plan long-term to ensure follow-through,  Holder-Winfield added; he said programs that work in other cities sometimes fail here because of too little follow-through. The DeStefano administration announced in 2007 that it was bringing a version of Project Longevity here four years ago, then abandoned it within months.

Holder-Winfield also argued Thursday that the city isn’t doing enough on the “carrot” end. The city has manifold job-training programs, he said, but not enough follow-through to ensure people—especially those emerging from prison—have the “soft skills” to keep jobs once they land them. And developers and city officials need to stop making “excuses” about why more people of color aren’t landing contracts and subcontracts on development projects, Holder-Winfield said.

Unlike his opponents, Keitazulu blasted Project Longevity and the current policing regime. He said he will bring back retired Assistant Chief Petisia Adger as the new police chief “when” he becomes mayor.

Keitazulu echoed concerns originally expressed in a Register story Abdul-Karim wrote featuring interviews with black New Haveners: that Project longevity represents racial profiling.

“I look at Project Longevity like I look at the war on drugs. People in the inner-city are going to be attacked,” he said.

Instead of the gang initiative, he called for the creation of a “safety patrol” featuring “young people working with the police. Paying them. Hiring them. I think this is better.”

He also called for the creation of two new vo-tech schools in New Haven. He would transform Hillhouse into one of those schools, he said.

“Every time I see these new crime bills come up, the only people getting affected is minorities,” Keitzaulu said. “The prisons fill up. Minorities make up 12 percent of this country and 50 percent of this jail population. A t the same time, everybody wants peace.”

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posted by: UNH Grad on March 14, 2013  10:08am

I’m not sure how they think that targeting all known members and associates of a gang when one commits a crime is a NEW idea, nor do I understand why its racist.

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act - aka RICO (Enacted in 1970)
In layman’s terms (and this is a BIG simplification because you could study RICO for years and not fully understand it,) it allows law enforcement to target ALL members of a criminal enterprise if even ONE member commits a predicate offense. 

This law has been used against “La Cosa Nostra”, Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (Hells Angels), hispanic gangs, police departments and even in some instances, the Catholic Church.  Its incredibly effective at dismantling organized crime groups and has been held up in court numerous times.  So you can stow the “its not fair to treat us all as one” argument, because the whole point of a gang is to act as a single group.

As for the “racist” argument.  Last I checked the police don’t pick who gets to join the gangs.  Here’s a hypothetical:

I want to start a criminal enterprise.  I reach out to a few of my buddies who are of the same ethnicity and we get a group together and form a “gang.”  One of our rules is that we only allow people of our ethnicity into the group. 

So sooner or later one of our members gets caught doing something illegal and tells the police that we ordered him to do it.  Now, thinking back to the entrance requirements WE as the gang set, what do you think the racial makeup of the individuals on that warrant will be?  I’m betting they will all be the same, but that’s hardly the police’s fault.  They’re simply arrested the members of the gang.  They didn’t decide that all our members should be X or Y race.

Food for thought.

posted by: anonymous on March 14, 2013  10:53am

Cops on the dots is a great idea. But it requires cops working more on the night shift, when most serious times happen. Will the new Mayor renegotiate our union contracts, or simply wait until the city declares bankruptcy (due to excessive union benefits flowing to workers who almost entirely live in the suburbs) and dissolves the police force (as other cities have done?)

posted by: The Miz on March 14, 2013  11:17am

I’velooked at the data for this sort of thing as well as Mr. Elicker. He’s right in that it doesn’t just “move to another block.” And as UNH Grad suggested, this doesn’t target race at all. Are blacks the majority of gang leaders in our city? Yes. That’s a reality, not a fabrication or even a judgement, and we must deal with it as such. Since this isn’t random stop and frisk, race-baiting plays no role.

As UNH Grad also mentioned, this is definitely not a new idea.

This article has proven to me more than anything that Mr. Keitazulu is extremely unqualified for this position.

posted by: Joe City on March 14, 2013  11:31am

Paul Bass…why do you continue to allow these patently false statements “(CITY) workers who almost entirely live in the suburbs” by anon to continue to appear on your website? He has a right to his opinions, but allowing his constant distortion of fact to appear is on you.

posted by: anonymous on March 14, 2013  11:35am

Joe City:
Police Union: 21% living in New Haven
Teacher Union: 23% living in New Haven

posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 14, 2013  11:59am

gee and I thought the rico act was just to target Italians ...J/K

All they have to do is come over to Cedar Hill on state street I bet they will get a bunch of folks.

Anon…we have a beat cop..who’s hours were changed to (get this) 7am to 3pm…yeap because we all know how much crime happens during those hours! But because we have that beat cop….during the SLOWEST CRIME TIME in a high crime area…NO COPS COME HERE AT ALL AT NIGHTS. I did finally meet our new district manager and have to send him a list of hot spots….same list I have sent out for 10 years! 10 year same spots and NOTHING! Not really sure why…at one point we thought they had the narc people working on it….no that was just to keep us quite. park at the light on state and may…during rush hour…watch the deals happening at 5 pm while you are waiting for the light to change…they don’t even hide it anymore because they know we have no cops…Check out what happens and who visits the backs of those venders…really you will rake up a who’s who I am sure and a few child recrutes.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 14, 2013  12:09pm

posted by: anonymous on March 14, 2013 11:35am

Joe City:
Police Union: 21% living in New Haven
Teacher Union: 23% living in New Haven

Check this out.

Greater New Haven.

There are several official definitions of Greater New Haven. There are thirteen towns that are included in all definitions. These are:

East Haven
New Haven (central city)
North Branford
North Haven
West Haven

So does this mean if a person lives in one of these towns,are they stiil in New Haven?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 14, 2013  12:28pm

posted by: The Miz on March 14, 2013 11:17am

I’velooked at the data for this sort of thing as well as Mr. Elicker. He’s right in that it doesn’t just “move to another block.” And as UNH Grad suggested, this doesn’t target race at all. Are blacks the majority of gang leaders in our city? Yes

How about the LATINO GANGS like The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation Mara Salvatrucha MS-13 which are in New Haven. And from what I have been hearing on the streets the Mexican gang SUR 13 are becoming big in NEW Haven.How come the poilce are not going after any of these gangs?

posted by: Yaakov on March 14, 2013  12:29pm


Regardless of whether residency requirements are good policy, they violate state law and that does not appear to be changing any time soon. That is out of our control.

In the mean time, instead of bemoaning the fact that the majority of our city’s employees live outside of New Haven, how about we work on what we ~can~ control—that is, how about we make New Haven the kind of city in which a young police officer or teacher raising a family would like to buy a house live?

From my experience in the boarder between the Dwight and Edgewood neighborhoods, Project Longevity is working to make my area a more hospitable place.

When I heard Elicker speak a few weeks ago at a meet-and-greet, he focused on those things that are in our power and in our control—what we can do to improve our city and make more people want to live here long-term instead of trying to city employees to live here against their will.

posted by: Joe City on March 14, 2013  12:45pm

Anon…you’re a statistician? “almost entirely” to me would mean at least more than 50%, and probably more like 90%.

Your casual adherence to the facts to make dubious points is a problem I have with this website for not correcting the misinformation, not with you…you can make any erroneous statement you want.

posted by: RHeerema on March 14, 2013  12:54pm

I urge people interested in Project Longevity to read “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, or if pressed for time, watch her recent lecture at Yale Divinity School: Powerful analysis of the inherent racism in our criminal “justice” system.

posted by: anonymous on March 14, 2013  2:38pm

Joe City: “almost entirely to me would mean at least more than 50%, and probably more like 90%.”

The police union figure in the NHI article I provided is 79% living outside of New Haven.  79% is greater than 50%, and I think it is getting pretty close to the “more like 90%” that is your standard.

Yaakov, the NHI article discusses residency requirements, but I did not suggest that as the only solution.  I agree that incentives also can work - the Yale Homebuyer Program is a good example.

posted by: Joe City on March 14, 2013  2:58pm

Anon, so the only people that work for the city under union contract are police officers?

posted by: JohnTulin on March 14, 2013  3:14pm

Keitazulu: already making excuses, playing the race card on an idea has nothing to do with race (as other commenter have pointed out), and claiming that pouring more money into New Haven’s streets will solve our problems.  What’s next, Barbara Fair as his running mate??

Three strikes, you’re out Sundiata!

posted by: The Miz on March 14, 2013  3:31pm


Because the Latino gangs are not responsible for as much of the crime (significantly less repsonsible for the violence).

Also, I wouldn’t think that people coming from Greater New Haven would count as New Haven, in response to your earlier question.

posted by: Curious on March 14, 2013  3:47pm

JoeCity, don’t let anon get you worked up, it’s not worth it.  Just learn to love his wild statements, and chuckle.  My recent favorite is how “only the very wealthy, if anyone at all”, would be able to afford to live in a new development.  Yes, I hear Bill Gates and Her Majesty the Queen filled out applications, but were turned down.

posted by: anonymous on March 14, 2013  4:24pm

Joe City, the topic was police and police contracts. The police contract is a huge part of the city’s budget. And the numbers for other employees were not much different, especially if you look at the higher-paid positions.

posted by: HhE on March 14, 2013  7:18pm

I think 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 teachers or cops living in the city they serve is rather good.  I did some back of the envelope calculations.  My carrier is not necessarily representative, but only 22% of the positions I held as a teacher did I live in the district.  If we consider the years, it drops to 13.5%. 

One of the challenges of arguing with anon is that he will change the definition of a given word. Watch “almost entirely” move from nearly every to something well short of that.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 14, 2013  9:55pm

For those who are complaining about workers living outside of New Haven.How about when these workers retire and move to another state with there city or state pensions.Are they still not taking tax dollars away?

posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 15, 2013  8:44am

A chart done a few years ago by city hall about who lives here.

I am sure more have moved out since.

3/5th it makes a difference because the homeowners of New Haven are the ones that have to pay for all of this. If you live here and pay taxes you have a different fight in ya than someone that goes home at night.

posted by: Tom Burns on March 16, 2013  12:15am

Kudo’s to Ms Caraballo—you are right on in everything you say—so sorry to hear about your son—how does this story morph from what to do about this problem to residency—and those of you who harp on residency don’t have a clue—yeah—lets have a smaller pool from which to pick the most important people in our localities to work in the most important professions—that is simply idiotic and lame—and basically an embarrassing tenet to espouse—so get educated and get a job, due to your abilities—not due to where you live—Grow up—Tom

posted by: anonymous on March 17, 2013  2:21pm

Tom, if you lived in an 80-90% non-White community where nearly all of your property taxes and rent payments were going to pay for City staff who came from privileged, dual-car, 95-99% White suburban towns—and where even highly-educated residents could not find jobs even after years of searches and job training—how would you feel?