The police department’s number one priority—reducing gun violence—is being achieved and the crime stats prove it: Five homicides compared to seven last year, and a shining achievement compared to the state’s comparable big cities, where to date Hartford has 19 homicides and Bridgeport 18.
But would a diminishing of resources due to the ongoing state budget crisis put the brakes on that positive momentum?
No, and, yes. Possibly.
Those achievements, combined with a touch of low-grade anxiety about the resources to continue to advance them, emerged in a candid discussion at Tuesday night’s regular meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners.
Commissioner Donald Walker asked about the department’s “plans for the continuing [state] fiscal crisis.”
“Mayor Harp is committed to not cutting public safety,” Chief Anthony Campbell replied. He said the department is not anticipating the need to cut any officers.
“However, if things don’t change soon, I can see our going to zero overtime. We’re not there yet and we hope and pray we don’t, and we have a plan [in place] for that,” he added.
That zero overtime plan would affect the configuration of the shifts and other deployments, but “it should not affect public safety.”
One area, where the state’s fiscal woes are already being felt: Project Longevity.
That project launched here in November 2012 by the city, the U.S. attorney, and the governor, identifies the small number of gang-related young men most involved in violence. It brings them to carefully choreographed call-ins to hear from law enforcement officials and community leaders. They hear a plea to stop the violence. Then they get a choice: Take advantage of immediate help in finding jobs, housing, medical care or earning degrees to straighten out their lives. Or go back to shooting — in which case local, state and federal agents will come down on their entire groups to put them behind bars for decades under federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. (Click here for a story on how the project helped fell one deadly gang.)
New Haven’s project has been successful. (An example was announced on Wednesday, with the arrests of six alleged New Haven gang members, affiliated with the Goodrich Street Boys gang, on federal attempted murder, firearms, narcotics, and racketeering charges.)
Assistant Chief Archie Generoso, who also presented at the commissioners’ meeting, attributed much of the reduction in gun violence to the project: Between 2003 and 2012 there were 126 shootings. However, since the advent of Project Longevity in November 2012, only 64 shootings have been logged in. “We cut it in half,” said Generoso.
That was one reason why already eight cities have come to study New Haven’s approach, including, Generoso added, officials from Honduras arriving in town next week for that purpose.
The anxiety centered on the paycheck of the exceptional former police officer who runs Project Longevity, Stacy Spell. Only he and an assistant are paid — all the other officers who participate do it on their own time — and they are paid by the cash-strapped and budget-stalled state. The state faces a $5-plus billion two-year deficit and is already more than a month late in trying to pass a new budget.
“He hasn’t received a pay check in a month, due to the state budget” stalemate, Generoso reported.
Commissioner Stephen Garcia asked how the department is supporting Spell.
“Stacy is doing an unbelievable job,” said Genoroso.
“Despite not being paid,” Chief Campbell added.
Commission Chair Anthony Dawson said he has some ideas to address the situation, which will be discussed at another time.
The chiefs also reported that 29 new officers recently completed their field training and are ready to be deployed. “They will reduce our overtime by $15,000 a day,” said Campbell.
After presenting the crime stats, Generoso concluded: “We’ll not be satisfied until zero [homicides]. We are bucking national trends. Our numbers are going down, while nationally the numbers are going up. We’re making it happen. It’s due to the support from you, the alders, the mayor. They have not cut back on money and resources. This city invests in the safety of its citizens.”
Some Trees Don’t Grow In Newhallville
Following the tragic shooting of 14-year-old Tyriek Keyes on July 16, not only are more police patrolling Newhallville. There are more crews of tree-trimmers at work there as well.
That news emerged in a report by Assistant Chief Generoso at Tuesday night’s commissioners meeting.
For the last eight days two of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tree’s four contract tree-trimming crews have been assigned to the streets around the Lincoln-Bassett School, the neighborhood where Tyriek was killed.
While tree-trimming is part of an ongoing citywide program, the Department Director Rebecca Bombero said that for the first time “we did a ride-along with the police to scope some of their requested safety trim, which resulted in a larger scope of work. The focus was in Newhallville around Lincoln Bassett.”
That scope includes raising trees to improve site lines for cameras, traffic signals, and lighting, she added.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Assistant Chief Generoso reported to the commissioners that the stepped up police patrolling was being accompanied by this important arboreal work, with an aim “to cut some of the trees around some of our cameras and lights.”
The city is in the process of putting up more cameras in Newhallville and elsewhere, he added. Cutting trees that obscure lights and camera views is work Generoso described as “essential” to enhance safety and crime-solving.
He said that officers indicated areas where the branch trimming is a priority and that the parks and rec crews should be finishing up in Newhallville this week.
Bombero wrote in an email that her department has over 2,000 “open issues,” or trimming requests, at any given time. The staff to respond to all that consists of two internal crews, along with contract crews funded through a capital allocation centered around hurricane season.
“This year the funding has allowed for four crew,” with the priorities being immediate hazards, safety trimming as requested by police, engineering or [the department of] Transportation, Traffic & Parking for site lines and secruity and then by level of hazard by date reported, she wrote.