Three young men sat in a Chevy Malibu parked illegally outside an abandoned house. One made a cell phone call.
“Can you get your fucking ass down here?” he said into the phone. “These fucking cops are fucking harassing us.”
Officer Michael Haines and his partner, Brendan Borer, had approached the Malibu when they saw it stopped in no-parking zone.
Haines, 26, and Borer, 27, (pictured), have just started an assignment as walking beat cops in Cedar Hill (pictured on map), an oft-neglected neighborhood comprised of seven streets cut off from the rest of wealthier East Rock by the I-91 highway.
They say their goal is to tackle smaller “quality of life” offenses in the hopes of making headway against larger problems, such as drug-dealing and prostitution.
So when they saw the occupied vehicle in front of the vacant structure, Haines asked: Could he see some ID? License and registration?
The insurance on the vehicle looked outdated; Haines asked the driver to call his company and show he had valid coverage. While that went on, his friend in the passenger seat made the cell phone call to another person he claimed was inside the house.
“You’re not making it any easier for your friend,” Haines told the passenger. “Your attitude is going to affect the outcome here – which way this goes.”
Haines said he could have the car towed. He said he could issue a summons requiring the driver to go to court for his lack of insurance.
Meanwhile, the driver reported that, yes, he was carrying an expired insurance card. But a new one was on its way, he said.
In the end, Haines and Borer let the driver go.
“We could still have given him a ticket for not having an active card,” Haines said later. “We didn’t have to let him call the insurance company. That’s something we do out of courtesy, but we’re technically allowed to take his car.”
Haines said that in this case, the driver was “polite and well-spoken,” not rude or aggressive. The officers “didn’t get the sense he was up to no good.” So they gave him the benefit of the doubt and “cut him loose.”
Quality Of Life
That was one of many small encounters that took place as Haines and Borer patrolled Cedar Hill one recent afternoon. The two climbed through a derelict property’s newest broken window to check the interior, talked with neighbors on their sidewalks, and scoped parked vehicles as the sun went down.
On State Street, just past the “A Cut Above” barber shop, Haines pointed out a piece of broken siding on a building where he said he recently found a glass crack pipe hidden. He crushed the vial underfoot, and he said he hasn’t found drug paraphernalia hidden in the spot since.
Haines pointed to that act as one example of “broken windows” policing, the much-debated and diversely interpreted bedrock of community policing, in which cops address the smallest of offenses while patrolling on foot to get to know the neighborhood.
Borer and Haines graduated together from the Police Academy last December and were paired to walk a beat on lower State Street. About a month ago, they were assigned to patrol farther up State into Cedar Hill part of each week.
The two displayed an easy rapport. Borer, who typically drinks protein shakes and power bars, gave Haines a hard time for his gummy bears and sour patch kids at lunch and the two Hess station bags of popcorn he snacked on in the early evening. Trading stories before their shift started, Borer made Haines smile when he described one confrontation that week as “some Tokyo Drift driving.”
Growing up, Haines sometimes cruised along with his uncle, who was a cop in Bridgeport. “I got to see a few chases – flying, with the sirens going. It was fun,” he recalled.
The men in Borer’s family tend to be firemen, he said, but when the opportunity arose to test for a police position in New Haven, he took it. “I couldn’t ever do a desk job,” Borer said, though he acknowledged policing comes with its share of paperwork.
The pair said they’re still identifying “trouble houses” and hot spots in Cedar Hill, after more than four weeks on the job.
Heroin, crack, and marijuana all move through the neighborhood regularly, they said. It seems some dealers come from other parts of town to sell.
Haines and Borer also sometimes stop prostitutes in the area, signing up those willing to become confidential informants (“CIs”) instead of arresting them.
Once, early in November, the two approached a parked car and saw “more than a hundred” hypodermic needles all over the vehicle’s floor and seats. “These were needles without caps on them, with blood on the tips,” said Borer. “We told that guy not to hang around anymore.”
Things One and Two
“Typically, we know what these guys are doing. We just need a legal reason to stop them,” Haines said, on the theory behind honing in on parked cars and trespassing, or people visiting a park after sundown.
In downtown New Haven, where there’s a lot of congestion and “everyone” parks illegally, “you just let it go,” he said.
But not in Cedar Hill. People parking illegally are often up to other misdeeds, he argued.
“It depends on the area. In this area—let’s say these guys are just driving. We couldn’t pull them over because we’d have no reason why,” Haines said. “But let’s say these guys are parked in front of a house. From there, we can investigate what’s going on. Then, we come to find out maybe they don’t have a license, or the car’s not registered or insured—now we have an arrest.”
Walking towards one suspected “trouble house” on their regular route, Haines and Borer passed two identical twin brothers. “Hi Thing One, Thing Two,” Borer said, and the boys greeted him in return.
“I have an identical twin, and that was always what my family called us growing up,” Borer explained. (Things One and Two are mischievous, blue-haired characters out of Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat.)
As a school bus pulled up to the corner, Borer and Haines headed for a newly broken window at 161 Cedar Hill Ave. Someone had pushed out the glass on the boarded-up building’s front door.
Borer tried the knob and considered the hallway, which was littered with old phonebooks, newspapers, a Doritos bags and a broken lamp.
Haines climbed in first, kneeling and then stepping through the space into the house. The plane of glass fell whole, so no jagged pieces clung to the frame.
After checking the top floors, he returned for Borer so the two could search the basement together. “No way I’m going down there by myself,” he said.
Borer followed, with a supporting hand helping him through.
The basement was smeared with feces. “There’s shit in the tub, too,” Borer reported from a bathroom.
Beer cans, ramshackle furniture, and what were once clothes were splayed around the space. “People have been partying here,” Haines said.
Walking out, the officers ran into the property’s neighbor, Nicole Phelan, 21 (pictured).
“You guys find more hobos in there?” she asked.
Phelan said she hasn’t heard any music or noise coming from the house. “They must come and go late at night,” she said.
Chatting a while longer, Phelan mentioned that the fire department came to help a child in a nearby house a few days ago.
“A toddler was carried out on a stretcher,” she said. “Mine’s evil—a little devil—but it’s sad.”
The officers met Phelan’s young son, who was waiting in her car, before they moved down the street.
On the ground was a mix of dead leaves and snow that had melted and re-frozen into ice. Passing the edge of East Rock Park, Borer pointed out patches of dirt where quads have been driven in loopy joy-rides.
“They’re illegal, but you see those tracks everywhere,” he said. “They come out at night, when there’s no one to catch them.”
One more quality-of-life crime for the look-out list.
Ecstasy in Long Johns
Around 9 p.m., later that same day, Haines and Borer investigated a car parked illegally on the edge of East Rock’s woods. It was after dark; parks in New Haven legally close at sunset.
As the cops ran the vehicle’s license plate number, the driver took off. The officers called for back-up and followed in speedy pursuit; the chase ended at the corner of Grand Avenue and Hamilton Street.
“We all had our guns out,” Haines said later. “And when the driver gets out of the car, he has a white powdery substance—cocaine—all over his nose and face.”
When Haines and Borer searched the car, they found marijuana and cocaine. When the arrested men were being processed at the station, officers found four more bags of pot in the passengers’ underwear, Haines said.
(Borer, earlier, had mentioned making a different arrest and finding “ecstasy capsules hidden in this guy’s long johns.” He said that in the winter months, people wear more layers and so have more places to hide drugs.)
Unlike the illegally parked car earlier in the shift, this “broken window” had lead to a bigger crime scene.
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Craig Alston & Billy White Jr.
• James Baker
• Lloyd Barrett
• Manmeet Bhagtana (Colon)
• Paul Bicki
• Paul Bicki (2)
• Sheree Biros
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Anthony Campbell
• Rob Clark & Joe Roberts
• Sydney Collier
• Carlos Conceicao
• Carlos Conceicao (2)
• Carlos Conceicao and Josh Kyle
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Milton DeJesus (2)
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Robert DuPont
• Jeremie Elliott and Scott Shumway
• Jose Escobar Sr.
• Bertram Ettienne
• Bertram Ettienne (2)
• Martin Feliciano & Lou DeCrescenzo
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• Michael Fumiatti
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Derek Gartner & Ryan Macuirzynski
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Dan Hartnett
• Ray Hassett
• Robert Hayden
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• William Hurley & Eddie Morrone
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Juan Ingles
• Paul Kenney
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Herb Johnson
• John Kaczor & Alex Morgillo
• Jillian Knox
• Peter Krause
• Peter Krause (2)
• Amanda Leyda
• Rob Levy
• Anthony Maio
• Dana Martin
• Steve McMorris
• Juan Monzon
• Chris Perrone
• Ron Perry
• Joe Pettola
• Diego Quintero and Elvin Rivera
• Ryan Przybylski
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• David Rivera
• Luis & David Rivera
• Luis Rivera (2)
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• Salvador Rodriguez (2)
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• David Runlett
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• Gene Trotman Jr.
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