The suspect’s mug shot flashed on the screen.
“Who is this guy?” the chief asked.
Responded the neighborhood’s top cop: “You know, he’s a little bit of an enigma.”
The conversation didn’t end there. It just began. It would draw in cops from other neighborhoods, other divisions. Not to mention people from state parole and the state’s attorney’s office. While dozens of others listened in.
The setting was a fourth-floor conference room at the police department. Some 70 people gathered there Tuesday morning for the department’s weekly “CompStat” meeting, where top cops responsible for New Haven’s 10 policing districts report on the latest crime trends in their neighborhoods and plans for tackling them.
Tuesday morning’s gathering showed the ways that new Police Chief Dean Esserman changed the meeting, dramatically, as part of his larger plans for remaking the department and revive community policing.
The meetings used to take place every four weeks, then every six weeks, according to Lt. Luiz Casanova, who oversees patrol. Maybe 30 people would show up, pretty much just cops from the department.
CompStat, which started in New York City, stands for “computer statistics” or “comparative statistics.” Cities across the country have replicated it; Esserman used it in Providence. In some places people have credited it with holding police supervisors accountable for performance and catching crime trends early; some have criticized CompStat for leading to fudging of numbers, similar to teachers and administrators playing around with results from high-stakes tests. CompStat can also, as demonstrated Tuesday, offer a chance for people working on crime from different angles and silos to share information and ideas.
This month Esserman began convening the meetings every week and inviting many more police “partners.” (He also changed the name from Tasca to CompStat.) Tuesday’s gathering drew more than twice as many people as in the past.
Close to half of them sat at three long tables arranged in a U shape. Managers of the city’s 10 policing districts sat at one table, taking turns answering questions about crimes in their neighborhoods. They have to come prepared, ready to explain how they’ll try to find, say, a repeat mugger on the loose or respond to an ongoing problem at a strip club.
Facing the district managers at another long table were top departmental detectives and their supervisors.
At the table connecting the other two tables sat Casanova, who emceed the meeting; Esserman, who peppered everyone with questions; state Sen. Martin Looney (a visitor); state prosecutor David Zullo; Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins.
Behind them 40 or so more observers crammed into the rest of the room, from the Family Alliance’s Street Outreach Workers program; from the state probation and parole departments; from the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office and the Secret Service; the Metropolitan Transit Authority police; the University of New Haven and Yale Law School; the city’s health, traffic, and prisoner re-entry programs. Everyone found out what crimes are taking places where in town, who’s on the loose, what new plans New Haven has to work with other agencies.
From Beaver Hills to West Rock to Dwight, managers reported that they’ve started assigning regular walking beats this week, as planned. Participants reviewed a car chase earlier that morning (by Hamden cops into New Haven territory) that ended in a crash inside a sleeping man’s bedroom; Esserman spoke about the need to limit chases in the city. A new shootings-focused investigative unit, formed with the help of the state police and the state’s attorney, was announced. (Read about that here.)
The tone shifted at times from applauding the managers for their successes (“celebrating our wins,” as Casanova put it) and pressing them to commit to specific action.
Afterwards, as informal conversations continued among participants, Lt. Thaddeus Reddish remarked on the potential of weekly meetings to catch smaller problems before they get bigger.
“It’s good. It’s fresh,” he said. “You can stay right on top of it. You put this up [pictures of suspects, information about trends] six weeks from now [instead], you had six robberies, it gets to six robberies.”
No Murders Yet
In just about every part of town, the districts showed drops in most crimes, including violent crimes, from last week; over the past month; and compared to last year. (“Something in the water this past week I need to know about?” Esserman asked.) One exception: thefts from autos went up. In different neighborhoods, Casanova noted, the thieves seem to be swiping GPSs.
The most dramatic figure—but one officials don’t want to overemphasize at this point—involved murders, since that number can fluctuate wildly month by month. Still, after a year with a near-record 34 homicides, it did not go unnoticed.
“Today is Jan. 31,” Esserman noted. “There hasn’t been a murder [yet this year]. You are doing some nice work.”
Reported violent crime dropped 83 percent in Westville/West Hills in the first 28 days of January compared to 2011. “I know it’s early in the year. If you can keep that up, you’re a superstar,” Casanova told the district manager, Lt. Marty Tchakirides.
In Hill South, District 3, most crime categories dropped between 20 and 71 percent in January from a year ago. Esserman asked District Manager Holly Wasilewski why that happened. The arrest of one repeat offender made a big difference, she replied. Also, “having officers focus more on their beat boundaries rather than go all over the place.”
A 7 a.m. robbery of a woman has caused concerns at nearby John C. Daniels School, she reported. She planned to meet later that day with school officials and the head of the department’s school cops, Sgt. Ricardo Rodriguez.
Lt. Reddish reported on the capture of a violent burglar and street robber who’d been terrorizing East Rock and beating up Yale students.
Esserman turned to Lt. Julie Johnson, head of the Major Crimes Unit.
“Detective, did he talk?” he asked.
“He didn’t talk that night,” she responded. But a neighbor saw the mug shot in the Register and gave the cops information about another incident involving the suspect.
“This is the guy who messed up our block watch meeting,” Esserman said. “Good, we got him. The community needs to know we got him.”
“We put the word out,” Reddish said.
So far the police have him for two of the incidents for which he’s suspected, Reddish said. One involved the man punching his girlfriend’s father with a knife inside his fist.
Prosecutor David Strollo, sitting near Esserman, reported on the suspect’s bond and upcoming court dates.
In another case, Fair Haven’s Sgt. Anthony Zona had the picture of a suspect he’s been tracking shown on the screen. He’s the same suspected mugger, Zona said, whom the group had discussed earlier in the meeting, who’d been trying to cash stolen lottery tickets. Zona also spoke of upcoming plans to catch someone who apparently robbed two different Chinese food delivery people in two nights. And he spoke of working with people at a crime-plagued housing complex to start registering serial numbers of TVs, playstations and Xboxes.
“You’ll trust they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do. Then you’re going to trust and verify,” Esserman pressed him.
“Absolutely,” Zona vowed.
The managers were on the spot, for the most part clipped and monotonic in their reports and responses.
Then came Lt. Ray Hassett’s turn. The Dwight district manager and former professional actor (he had parts in Body Double and Superman: The Movie), spun the tales of two troublemakers his cops have been tracking.
One was the hapless robber who kept knocking on doors one day last week and pointing a gun at potential mugging targets, only to have the doors closed on him. Police caught up with him. They recovered two “Stinger” air soft handguns—with labels showing the suspect’s name and birth date.
“Who is this guy?” Esserman asked.
Hassett (at right in above photo, right before the meeting started) called him an “enigma.” He comes from Massachusetts, he said.
“Where does he live?
“With two guns?”
The man also got caught in North Carolina for assaulting a handicapped person, among other crimes.
Turning to Strollo, Esserman asked whether the suspect can be held behind bars. “It’s up the judge,” Strollo replied.
“I wonder about this guy,” Esserman pressed.
Hassett began quoting the suspect speaking to the cops after his capture: “I’m stupid. I can’t believe I’m such an idiot. Just take me to jail ...”
Hassett paused for dramatic effect, then added, “That’s a confession,” provoking laughter throughout the room.
Esserman suggested the state’s attorney pay special attention to the case. Turning back to Hassett, he noted that the cops who caught the suspect are Hassett’s two newly-assigned walking beats.
“They were in the car” that night last week, Hassett replied.
“What were they doing in the car?”
“I didn’t start the walking beats until last night.”
Then Hassett asked have projected the picture of another repeat offender. “He is a player in my district,” he said. “I want to put him on the radar.”
The man has fought with cops, he said. A family member personally asked the cops to have him arrested.
Lt. Jeff Hoffman, who heads the tactical narcotics unit, said his detectives made an undercover drug buy from the money. The crack cocaine turned out to be fake. They got a search warrant for his apartment, arrested him on dealing charges, and discovered 13 bags of marijuana.
He’s now out on bond.
Is he on probation? Esserman asked. Parole?
“Terrific. Is he back home?”
“Yes,” Hassett responded.
“He lives with his mother,” Hoffman added.
Many eyes will be watching.