More Cops On Foot? Or In Cars?

Paul Bass PhotoSometimes, Sgt. Sean Maher told Wooster Square and downtown neighbors, they may need to choose between more walking cops and more traffic cops.

Maher made the observation while reoprting good news — and then getting some pushback in response — at Tuesday evening’s monthly Downtown Wooster Square Community Management team meeting at City Hall.

The sergeant, the district’s top cop, and several of his officers updated two dozen community members present on the progress they have made using fewer resources to achieve greater motor vehicle enforcement, including over 300 traffic stops in downtown over the last month.

He also announced that four out of six district officers per shift have now been assigned to walking beats. Walking beats have been a popular cornerstone of New Haven’s community policing strategy.

Maher and his predecessor also heard a lot at these management team meetings about the desire to crack down on speeding, reckless drivers. They also have heard a lot about the desire for walking beats to connect with people and help them feel safe while solving quality-of-life problems.

Sometimes, Maher noted, the department has limited resources to accomplish both goals. Sometimes there’s a trade off.

“When we have radio cars out doing motor vehicle enforcement, that pulls from walking beats,” said Maher.

“I’ve come to many community meetings where the stress is for walking beats, and I believe in the walking beats. But walking beats cannot safely do motor vehicle enforcement. It’s an ebb and flow of service, and this needs to be a discussion that we have as to where we prefer the service to be.”

Neighborhood activist Ed Anderson kicked off one strand of that conversation when he asked for an update on the car crash that killed a pedestrian at the corner of South Frontage Road and York Street earlier this year.

“There haven’t been any charges pressed in regards to the vehicular homicide that happened a couple weeks ago,” Anderson said, quizzing Maher on when the public would know the results of the police department’s pending investigation into the accident. “Because of past experiences with issues like this, we’re pretty cynical around here about the driver being held responsible.”

Thomas Breen photoMaher and his officers explained that these investigations take time, and that the department had not yet made public its report. But he relayed that the police’s traffic unit is currently in the middle of a two-week study of the intersection to better understand trends in vehicular crimes at that location.

Lt. [Rob] Criscuolo is overseeing the whole project, which involves both our daytime and evening squads,” Maher said. “This study will help us see if there’s something we can do to make this intersection safer.”

The conversation then shifted towards a broader discussion of how best to mitigate dangerous speeding on city side streets, as Alder Richard Furlow shared his latest efforts to petition the city and the state to decrease city speed limits.

“If you look at the speed limits in New Haven, one of the things that we need more of is police enforcement,” said Furlow, who represents parts of the Whalley-Edgewood-Beaver Hills neighborhoods.

“We need to do a whole ‘Slow Down, New Haven’ campaign, because it’s outrageous how fast cars are driving. If the speed limit was dropped to 20 miles per hour on our secondary streets, that means that, if you’re doing 30 miles per hour, now you have to be stopped by the police because you’re 10 over the limit. I think that’s a good place to start.”

Furlow is looking to hold a public hearing next month on lowering city speed limits. He encouraged Maher to focus on protecting New Haven pedestrians from the dangers of vehicles speeding through city side streets.

Which brought the conversation back to the issues of traffic safety, public resources, and police priorities.

Anderson questioned Maher on the wisdom of devoting resources to educating pedestrians on how to cross the road safely instead of focusing all police traffic efforts on stopping and ticketing offending drivers. Maher reiterated that cops dedicated to walking beats cannot necessarily work on motor vehicle enforcement at the same time. And so the community as a whole has to decide how much of a priority they want the police to place on each issue.

“One of the downsides of more walking beats is less motor vehicle enforcement because we have fewer cars on the road,” Maher said. “If there’s a consensus from the community that we’d rather pull walking beats to cars to do more motor vehicle enforcement, that’s a discussion we can have. But the consensus I’ve seen from all of the meetings I’ve been to is to push for walking beats.”

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posted by: Hill Resident on February 22, 2017  4:17pm

The needs in each of the districts/neighborhoods are different and may vary within at times. I think the district management team meetings are a good place to develop a consensus on what is needed in that district based on the police reports of criminal activity, the population density of the area and the current/active concerns of those expressed at the management team meetings. In my district, some of the areas need for more beat officers because of illegal street-based activity, and other areas need more patrol cars at certain locations at certain times of day because of heavy traffic on main thoroughfares. And during night shifts, we need strictly patrol because the street vision of the beat officer is limited, there’s less pedestrian traffic and there are fewer patrol cars to respond to calls. The district managers should be given the authority and resources to make adjustments as needed to serve the neighborhoods in his/her district.

posted by: JohnDVelleca on February 22, 2017  4:50pm

This is another issue that has been the “elephant in the room” at the NHPD for years now.  It is a direct result of past chief’s who had deemed themselves “Community Policing Guru’s.”  Unfortunately, their rhetoric has tethered effective community policing to walking beats, which is simply not accurate.  Community policing is a philosophical theory, not a program.  In other words, a department can have lots of walking beats without a single community police officer.  Conversely, a department can have lots of motorized patrols with lots of community police officers.  The idea of community policing is founded within the mindset of the officer, not the designation of their assignment.  I’ll bet there are some officers who walk a beat regularly who never engage the community, and there are also some who are assigned a motorized patrol who take the time to park and meet their community on a regular basis.  The latter is community policing, the former is not.  I think the “park and walk” type of assignment is best because it requires the officer to spend a certain amount of time walking their beat area, but still provides access to a vehicle if the need for rapid response arises.  Furthermore, the concentration on walking beats requires an obscene amount of personnel and usually drives overtime costs very high.  Take New Haven for instance, the average ratio of police to resident is 1.7 (cops) to 1000 (residents).  In New Haven, that number is nearly double because we rely so heavily on walking beats and other specialized assignments.  And, if you extrapolate the overtime figures (as I did in 2011) you’ll find that most of the overtime is spent on back-filling motorized units that have been vacated by officers reassigned to walking beats and supervision of the inflated personnel in a designated area due to the increase in personnel that walking beats create.  In other words, you can’t discontinue emergency response vehicles because the call volume is too high. (continued)

posted by: JohnDVelleca on February 22, 2017  5:03pm

So walking beats merely add personnel to a certain area, not replace them.  Consequently, these walking beats are usually added to the areas that are deemed “hot-spots” in need of “quality of life” type of enforcement, which usually means impoverished minority neighborhoods.  And more cops in an impoverished area that is densely populated by minority residents means more arrests of low-level minority offenders, which we don’t need.  If one were to acquire a routine NHPD evening shift patrol detail a simple juxtaposition of officers assigned to walking beats and the representative demographic in that area would prove this point.  Community Policing in New Haven is nearly thirty years old, but hasn’t really evolved yet.  Hopefully, the new officers at the executive command level will deploy officers more effectively and realize that it’s quality, not quantity when it comes to CBP.

posted by: HughBridgers on February 22, 2017  9:43pm

4 out of 6 officers on a walking beat…
Doesn’t that seem like an inefficient way to create a police presence over an area?

If they can’t spare cars, give ‘em a bike at least, no?
That way they make their presence known over a wider area by continuously cruising more area in less time.

Isn’t crime less likely if people think cops are nearby (& also, not moving in routine predictable patterns…and not as easy to outrun)?

I don’t really know anything about policing, just guessing/asking.

posted by: robn on February 23, 2017  5:01am

The electoral college is just another form of gerrymandering.

posted by: HewNaven on February 23, 2017  2:24pm

Climate Change is REAL, people!!!

posted by: Glenn on February 24, 2017  10:13am

It would be hard to argue that foot patrol officers don’t have better relationships with the community in general. It is not like Los Angeles where they have a huge area to cover and really rely on dispatched police cars and officers, but those dispatched officers do cover more area during their normal shifts I imagine. It has to do with the population density, I think foot patrol is good downtown and in certain areas too. Here in Fair Haven we seem to get by with cops in cars who know how to keep an eye on things a lot of the time.

posted by: new haven can do better on February 26, 2017  3:25am

A few quick points:

1. Maher: We have limited resources. This is bc we have police guarding the animal shelter, sitting at cushy desk assignments at 1 Union Ave, and about 8 to 10 cops working in the intake/processing room. Anyone taken into the processing room has already been searched and cuffed. Nevertheless, it’s guarded like Fort Knox.

2. Traffic calming takes time. The city has been a free-for-all for 20 years. Drivers know they won’t get a ticket in New Haven, I travel through a town in Westchester a couple of times a month. I never go above the speed limit bc every time I am in that town I see police issuing tickets. New Haven needs to build up a reputation as a place to slow down, and that takes time.