He Knew The Faces. So He Got The Gun

After chasing down a suspect in Newhallville, Robert Hayden traced his steps to look for a gun the man might have ditched. Reviewing an apartment complex security video, he saw a woman walk by. He knew her name. He knew where she lives.

Before the night ended, the cops not only had an alleged gun-toting crack dealer behind bars. They had taken a “Super Blackhawk” off the streets.

It was the fourth illegal deadly weapon Hayden, working with his fellow officers, had recovered in two weeks.

He did it not because he knows so much about guns. He did it because he knows so many people and foot paths in Newhallville. Because he considers it his job to know them.

So says his supervisor, Sgt. Donnie Harrison.

“He parks his car and walks around and talks to people. The old community-based policing,” Harrison said.

“He knows a lot of people in the neighborhood. He gets a lot of information from the community. Every time there’s an incident going on, they ask for Robert Hayden. The criminals don’t like him. The community does.”

“You have to get out of the car,” Hayden said. “You have to talk to people.”

Hayden— a Hillhouse High grad with a pencil-thin mustache who favors military-style haircuts from his days assembling and disassembling nuclear weapons for the U.S. Army—got out of his patrol car for a stroll last Saturday around 4 p.m. Between sips of bottled water during an interview this week at Bru Cafe, he recalled what happened on that stroll.

Hayden was technically on duty Saturday in District 6, the Dixwell neighborhood. But the crew there had the neighborhood under control. Sometimes Newhallville (District 7), which has more violent crime, needs extra help. Hayden heads there when he can and walks around, checking in on hot spots. He feels almost a personal responsibility for tackling crime there.

On Saturday he had a recent murder on his mind from one of those hot spots: The shooting two nights earlier of bike enthusiast and vegan punk rocker Mitchell Dubey on Bassett Street near Winchester Avenue. Hayden had been off that night. “I wish I was there, five minutes prior,” he said. “Maybe my presence alone might have stopped it.”

Paul Bass Photo“I’m a proactive cop,” said Hayden, a 45-year-old married father of four (all in their 20s, two of whom texted and called him during the interview) who has served on the force 10 years. “I like to work. I know the spots where there may be gang activity or gun violence.”

He knows that Lilac Avenue is one such spot in Newhallville. He knows of one two-family house whose occupants don’t want drug-dealers hanging out front; a “no trespassing” sign is on the second-floor porch. But the dealers hang out anyway. Neighbors complain to the cops about it.

Hayden didn’t drive up to the street on Saturday. He parked blocks away. He started cutting through backyards to approach one particular house on foot. That’s his m.o.

He jumped a few fences on his way to Lilac, (“I’m not as good as the 21-year-olds, but I can get there”), passed right by the Bassett Street house where the Thursday murder took place, made his way through a backyard to the Lilac Street house a block away.

Some men were congregating out front. One sat on the front porch. Two men stood near him. Another—the lookout—stood across the street. Hayden recognized them. They’d been in trouble with the law before.

They didn’t see Hayden coming. “They’re not looking in the backyards,” he said. Instead, they faced toward Winchester Avenue.

“Hello, gentlemen,” Hayden recalls greeting them. “Do you have any drugs or weapons?”

The man sitting on the porch was in the position of the crew member who’s usally holding drugs, Hayden said. His facial expression upon hearing the question seemed to confirm it.

So did the man’s next move. He “took off running. While he was running, he was holding his hip, which usually indicates he’s holding a weapon.”

Hayden took off after him, calling for back-up through the radio attached to one of his top shirt buttons.

The suspect, who is 29 years old, ran faster. Hayden kept close enough to see him dart through a parking lot behind an apartment complex at 660 Winchester Ave. The chase followed up the hill on Highland. Then the suspect darted through backyards on Sheffield Avenue. Hayden counted a yard eight houses down where he spotted the suspect turning.

Two detectives, Nicole Natale and David Zaweski, happened to be in the area when Hayden called for help. They converged on the property. The detectives spotted the suspect hiding in a garage. The three cops took him into custody without incident.

Hayden patted down the man. He found no drugs. Nor a gun. The cops took the man to the 1 Union Ave. lock-up on criminal trespassing and interfering charges. There, a marshal processing the man discovered 21 baggies of crack and a Ziploc bag of marijuana hidden in his left pocket, according to a police report. The police added eight narcotics charges.

Meanwhile, Hayden heard from an officer at 660 Winchester. A man there told cops his son had seen a gun lying in the parking lot. When the man went to the parking lot, it had vanished.

Hayden looked over a security video from the time right after the chase. On the video a woman walked by at one point; Hayden recognized her and knows where she lives. He knocked on her door. The woman told him the name of a boy who had taken the gun. Hayden knows the boy and his mother, too.

So he contacted the mom. he asked her to send the boy to the scene. The boy showed up. The boy said “his friend had the gun and he would try to get it back,” according to the police report.

Around 9:30 p.m., Hayden received a call from the mom. “Officer Hayden,” he recalled her saying, “the weapon’s here.”

Contributed photo.The boy showed up with a .44-caliber Ruger “Super Blackhawk” magnum revolver. A big gun.

He couldn’t prove that the suspect had had that gun. So he didn’t charge him with possessing it. The man already faces a long list of charges; plus, he had been on parole.

“For me, the most important thing is that another gun is off the street,” Hayden said. “Especially one of that caliber.”

The Blackhawk remained in the police property room—rather than the streets of Newhallville, where it could have been used to claim another life.

Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:

Shafiq Abdussabur
Lloyd Barrett
Maneet Bhagtana
Paul Bicki
Scott Branfuhr
Dennis Burgh
Sydney Collier
David Coppola
Roy Davis
Joe Dease
Milton DeJesus
Brian Donnelly
Anthony Duff
Bertram Etienne
Paul Finch
Jeffrey Fletcher
Renee Forte
Marco Francia
William Gargone
William Gargone & Mike Torre
Derek Gartner
Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
Dan Hartnett
Ray Hassett
Robin Higgins
Ronnell Higgins
Racheal Inconiglios
Paul Kenney
Hilda Kilpatrick
Peter Krause
Peter Krause (2)
Amanda Leyda
Anthony Maio
Steve McMorris
Juan Monzon
Stephanie Redding
Tony Reyes
Luis & David Rivera
Luis Rivera (2)
Salvador Rodriguez
Brett Runlett
David Runlett
Marcus Tavares
Martin Tchakirides
Stephan Torquati
Gene Trotman Jr.
Kelly Turner
Lars Vallin (& Xander)
John Velleca
Holly Wasilewski
Alan Wenk
Michael Wuchek
David Zannelli
David Zaweski

(To suggest an officer to be featured, contact us here.)

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posted by: anon on March 30, 2011  12:20pm

Awesome story.  But let’s connect the story to action.  What can we do to help ensure that this area is no longer infested with guns?

Is going after residents who are holding and selling drugs, with few other economic options, really the best approach in a neighborhood where a huge proportion of young men are in prison already?  Is this just the easiest approach to racking up arrests, or is it the approach that makes most sense in the long term?

Why not focus more on violent crime, organized crime, break-ins, quality of life issues, and gun possession? 

In terms of overall detrimental impact on society, robbing someone with a gun or firing a gun into someone’s house should get a minimum of 20 years, no parole, regardless of the offender’s age.  If you actually use the gun you should be locked up for life.

Meanwhile, holding drugs is more like wrecking someone’s house with graffiti or breaking into a car to take a GPS that is sitting there, and should get you hours of community service, fines, or a very brief sentence.

posted by: HewNaven?? on March 30, 2011  2:53pm

“You have to get out of the car,” Hayden said. “You have to talk to people.”

I’d nominate him for “cop of the year” for that statement.

posted by: Ex-NHPD on March 30, 2011  3:15pm

Another example of the great work being done on a daily basis by the men and women of the NHPD.
Thank you Rob, David, and Nicole.

I read anon’s post several times, but remain confused.  Drug dealing occurs with organized groups, who use guns and violence in their everyday operation.  When someone is “holding drugs” for sale, there is a gun in play.  Anon asks to focus more on five issues; I think Hayden and the detectives covered four out of five on this one.

posted by: juli on March 30, 2011  3:21pm

“Because he considers it his job to know them.”

amen. well done. thank you for your hard work.

posted by: Ex-NHPD on March 30, 2011  3:43pm

Upon further review of the article, the subject was caught in a garage.  I am going to go out on a limb and say it was not his garage.  That adds the break-in element to anon’s wish list for what the cops should focus on.  They got five out of five on the list.

posted by: NewHaven on March 30, 2011  4:00pm

Great job. Hear that you are a top cop in district 6 keep up the good work you do know your stuff and your job. Dixwell Plaza is well protected while you are there.  (Joe)

posted by: New Havener on March 30, 2011  4:15pm


I completely agree with you. As for “anon’s” posts, they are ALL like that and I think most people stopped reading them a long time ago!!!

posted by: JB on March 30, 2011  4:20pm

That’s quite a gun!  Thank you, Officer Hayden.

posted by: no on March 30, 2011  4:50pm

Wholly CRAP look at the size of that cannon!
WTF is wrong with people?

posted by: Edward Francis on March 30, 2011  5:01pm

I’m impressed with Officer Hayden’s work ethic…Great story and I know there are many other Police officers in New Haven who go the extra mile to keep our streets as safe as can be.  Finding a way to get the illegal guns off the streets is half the battle. Officer Hayden used all the people resources available to him.  They cooperated because they care about their community.

posted by: Sure on March 30, 2011  5:17pm

...  Stop making excuses about a “life they were forced into”.  Multi-generational families of persistent felons/offenders need to stop having children.  Yes, they do.  They need to take care of their own, but first get an education that is freeley offered, get a job…  The law is the law and I feel, whatever needs to be done to get criminals off the streets (misdemeanor or felony) is fine and works.  Stop blaming, making up excuses and get your butt out in the trenches to help!

posted by: anon on March 30, 2011  6:03pm

Nice to see that the ex-NHPD and other comments here are O.K. with the fact that 1 in 100 Americans, including 1 in 9 black men, are in prison, primarily due to drug-related arrests.

If you look at research studies from communities like Newhallville, you’ll see that not everyone agrees with the NHPD on their approach.

In this case, it is true that the arrest resulted in the confiscation of a weapon, thanks to the officer’s resourcefulness in reviewing the video.  However, A) there is no indication that that weapon was used or was going to be used for a violent crime, B) a large number of arrests for narcotics do not ultimately result in the confiscation of weapons.  There is every indication that this person was arrested simply because they were an easy target for arrest.

It is a good sign that the officer knew people in the area, but the policies of day to day police actions and arrests, and overflowing U.S. prisons, need to be questioned.  According to Connecticut’s OLR attorney, 63% of our state’s prison population in 2010 was incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.

We spend millions of dollars imprisoning people from areas like Newhallville each year,  - those millions of dollars could pay for a lot of other valuable services.

posted by: Ex-NHPD on March 30, 2011  6:34pm

anon loses any credibility when they post that “there is no indication that the weapon was used or was going to be used for a violent crime.”  Once that is posted to buttress their point, no need to read any further.  ...

posted by: jo kremer on March 30, 2011  10:34pm

Thank you, Officer Hayden, for your brave and effective police work.

And thank you to all the citizens who helped.

posted by: Jason on March 31, 2011  5:52am

To anon:

Quit while you’re ahead.

posted by: anon on March 31, 2011  7:18am

Nice to know ex-NHPD A) has a guilty until proven innocent philosophy and B) does not want to hear anything about prison justice issues in our state, even though the case, and the continuing lock up of tens of thousands of CT residents in our prison system for nonviolent offenses, is being discussed here in general terms, not by prosecutors.

posted by: William Kurtz on March 31, 2011  8:48am

Officer Hayden for police chief.

Getting out of the car, knowing people, establishing enough trust in the neighborhood that the mother of a young man who is in possession of a dangerous weapon will actually call you on the phone to turn it in . . . it’s too bad they are considered radical ideas in police work.

posted by: Lou on March 31, 2011  9:48am

Thank you, Officer Hayden.  Job well done.  You are truly a brave person.
To Anon: ...  Drugs=gangs=guns=violence and death.  Drugs are not a racial issue.  They are everywhere including our suburban high schools and kids are dying from them and from the violence engendered from them everywhere.  We (black, white whatever) all need to work together to keep drugs and gangs out of our neighborhoods and towns and not be distracted by people who want to make it some sort of racial issue.

posted by: anon on March 31, 2011  10:58am

Lou, I disagree. Typical suburbs have more drug use, but much less incarceration and much less violence. Why is that? Race, class and social exclusion are actually a major part of this issue. Until the police and other leaders recognize this, the problem will get worse, not better.

posted by: Lou on March 31, 2011  11:28am

Anon, Well if there is more violence in the city then it should be addressed.  As you say, as soon as there is gun involvement, there should be swift and stiff punishment.  But, unlike you, I disagree that drug use should be ignored in the city or dealt with lightly in the city or any where.  Drug use breeds gangs and gangs breed violence.  BTW, although there may not be the gun violence in the suburbs, many young adults are quietly dying of overdoses.  I bet their parents wish they had been arrested so their secret problem could have been dealt with before it was too late. I again thank Officer Hayden.  I applaud him for trying to do something in the wake of the innocent, young cycling mechanic’s needless death.

posted by: anon on March 31, 2011  11:50am

Lou, more information on the issues can be found at http://www.november.org/Volunteers/CT/BarbaraFair/index.html.  There is a connection between the high arrest rate, the impacts of that arrest rate, and the continuing and/or growing preponderance of gun use.

Do you and ex-NHPD really think that people in Newhallville are “happy” that yet another person from the community has been locked up?  Seems like a case of projection to me.

I agree that the officer is doing his job and serving the community in a very honorable way. People are generally happy he is around to help (though folks in Dixwell, which is generally much safer, may not be so happy that he’s always being pulled off of their beats in order to go police Newhallville).  He is not the person in charge of the policies. 

It is OK to commend him for his work but also question the work he is doing.

posted by: lou on March 31, 2011  12:41pm

Anon, So you are saying that the people of Newhallville are UNHAPPY that a guy toting a huge gun (see above photo) and carrying drugs was arrested?  I beg to differ.  As a resident of New Haven, I could not be happier that he was arrested and locked up.  Sounds like you might be doing a little projecting yourself in that you seem to have an anti-arrest bias when it comes to selling drugs and/or using drugs.

posted by: Stacy R. Spell on March 31, 2011  8:53pm

Good Job. Keep up the good work. I like your proactive style of Community Policing, if you’re going to do the job, do it right.

posted by: Witch Burner on March 31, 2011  9:39pm

lol @ the size of that gun..  these kids really do think its the wild wild west again?

posted by: mulberryfield on April 4, 2011  8:18pm

Yay for New Haven cops. I think they really care.