Harp Probes The Newhallville Conundrum

Toni Harp asked Dixwell’s top cop, Sgt. Sam Brown, to show her the neighborhood trouble spots that command his officers’ attention.

In response, Brown drove her to a different neighborhood. “We’ll go to Newhallville, senator,” he told her.

Harp, a state senator who is currently one of seven Democrats running for mayor, was riding along with Sgt. Brown Thursday as part of a day devoted to fact-finding about public-safety issues. The day included a neighborhood tour with Brown, a community press conference in Edgewood, and a confab with black firefighters in the basement of the Elks Club on Webster Street.

The candidate picked up ideas about community policing and about gearing high-school kids toward firefighting jobs.

And in the process of exploring the neighborhoods with Brown, Harp ended up diving into one of the biggest public-safety mysteries facing New Haven these days: Why violent crime remains so much higher in Newhallville than in other neighborhoods. (Read a previous story about candidates’ take on that issue here.)

The Next Generation

Sam Brown had never met Harp before she parked her Acura TSX near the Edgewood police substation at 12:30 p.m. Thursday and hopped into the passenger seat of Brown’s Chevy Tahoe police supervisor’s vehicle. He was impressed she circled the block an extra time rather than park illegally in front of Amistad Academy. He was impressed she was on time.

“She seems humble,” he said.

He didn’t know that Harp had something to do with the job he had now and the way he does it. Back in 1989, Harp, then a Dwight alderwoman, co-wrote a detailed plan to bring community policing to New Haven as a position paper for the mayoral candidacy of John Daniels. Daniels made that issue number one in his platform. He put the plan into place after winning the election, and a revolutionized police force dramatically cut crime in the 1990s. Key to the plan was the creation of neighborhood patrol districts with walking beat cops who got to know neighbors and a district manager who functioned as a mini-police chief for the area. That’s now Brown’s job in Dixwell.

Harp, for her part, didn’t know that Brown is a second-generation poster-cop for the plan she coauthored. In 2011, a new police chief, Dean Esserman, revived a community policing model that had long fallen into disuse. He revived walking beats and gradually appointed new district managers. Brown took over Dixwell earlier this year. The neighborhood now goes a week or more at a time without a single reported major crime. The Dixwell map has appeared on the projection screen at the last two weekly CompStat data-sharing meetings at headquarters, for instance, without a single crime-incident icon.

Which explains why he and Harp ended up in Newhallville, not Dixwell, on Thursday.

They started in Dixwell. “Describe your area through your eyes,” Harp asked him, after inquiring about his childhood growing up in New Haven. Police often pick up on small but important problem areas before other people notice them. “One of the things about community policing is that you can look at a neighborhood and see what is going to be a trouble spot that has nothing [immediately] to do with policing” but can turn into a crime problem later on, she said.

Community policing grows out of the “broken window” theory that cops can prevent bigger crimes from happening by working with civilians to address small problems—loitering, idle kids on a corner, tensions at a school at dismissal time, arguments between families or groups of young people, actual broken windows.

“A month and a half ago there was a shooting right there,” Brown said as they drove past County Street. He spoke of how neighbors have started calling him and other cops regularly about crimes more often these days; he said they prefer to provide information after the fact rather than be seen talking to cops at the scene. “They don’t want to put themselves on ‘blast,’” Brown said. “They will talk to you in a different setting.”

They drove by two liquor stores on Dixwell Avenue that had attracted some problem loitering a while back. As they approached Munson Street, the border between the Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods, Brown pointed to a drug house the cops raided a while back. “Those guys have pretty much scattered” since then, Brown said.

Harp asked about what the cops find when raiding a house; she subsequently asked him for reality checks about some of the arguments she hears during debates about guns and drugs in the state legislature, where she has served since 1993 (and co-chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee). This year, in the week of the Newtown school massacre, she co-chaired the Mental Health Working Group of the legislature’s Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety.

She didn’t mention any of that to Brown during the ride Thursday. She mostly asked questions. Lots of questions.

And she kept asking to see some place where trouble brews. Finally Brown drove past Munson into Newhallville, where he and some of his officers find themselves spending a chunk of their time in order to help out the cops there. Newhallville’s CompStat maps, unlike Dixwell’s, are plastered each week with icons representing shootings, burglaries, and robberies.

They passed a rundown house on Division Street. “That’s a problem house” known for drugs and guns, Brown said. Members of the Slut Wave gang hang there.

Right around the corner, he said, members of the Playboys gang are staying. The two gangs have been beefing lately, and started shooting at each other.

He surprised Harp by informing her that Slut Wave originally operated out of the Hill. “I don’t understand,” he said, “why Slut Wave would move that close to the Playboys.”

That got Harp thinking: Why did they leave the Hill for Newhallville?

Around the corner, on Winchester Avenue, they drove by the Taurus Lounge, a never-ending source of neighborhood problems. Brown ticked off other gang locations nearby: Read Street, home to R2 and its offspring posses. Goodyear Street, home of GSB (Goodyear Street Boys).

Why so many gangs in Newhallville? Harp asked him. Why more gang violence than in other neighborhoods?

Brown talked about the closure years back of the Dixwell Community “Q” House, which has become a symbol for people calling for more youth programs in New Haven. He talked about the need for programs to help fathers play more of a role in their families. (Brown’s receiving a fatherhood award in Newhallville this Sunday)

They were talking about the “why Newhallville?” question as they drove down Lilac Street, past the site of a suspended, then restarted project to build a new home designed by Yale architecture students. (Read about that here.)

“It seems,” Harp observed, “like there are a lot of rundown vacant houses.” Might that have something to do with Newhallville’s disproportionate crime problem?

At a stop sign, Brown looked around. He immediately counted three vacant rundown houses just within a block.

“Yes, that’s an issue,” he said. “You know how landlords are. They’re out of state. You can’t even get in touch with them.”

That led to a discussion about cops working with City Hall’s anti-blight agency, the Livable City Initiative (LCI). Brown talked about how the agency responds promptly to his requests for help. “Last week they cleaned up a yard for me, an illegal repair shop. They were making all kinds of noise all times of day.”

That sounds like true community policing, Harp said.

Brown told her about a kid named “Mookie” who had been causing trouble. One day he saw Mookie back on the street hanging with other young people in a problem spot. “Hey Charles!” Brown called to him, using his real name. He added Mookie’s last name. He wanted Mookie to know that he knew all about his real identity. That scared Mookie off the corner, Brown said. It let him know the police were watching him.

That, too, sounds like true community policing, Harp said.

BDP Memories

True community policing was the subject of the next stop on Harp’s itinerary.

That stop was a press conference outside the Edgewood Avenue police substation.

Several women joined her there, women who got to know Harp when she was an alderwoman from the Dwight neighborhood during the dawn of community policing. The women remembered the bad old days of the 1980s, the heyday of the KSI (the Kensington Street International) drug gang and the BDP (police Beat-Down Posse), both of which the cops dismantled in the 1990s. Florita Gillespie, Linda Townsend-Maier, and Christian bookstore owner Bea Dozier-Taylor credited Harp with helping them get a police-community management team started in the neighborhood and establishing a close working relationship with police. The woman have been active in neighborhood committees like that for the past two decades. They’ve helped bring a Stop & Shop and a Montessori School to the neighborhood. Dozier-Taylor’s A Walk In Truth bookstore replaced a longtime problem liquor store.

Harp said successful community policing hinges on the work of neighbors like these women developing trust in the cops. She praised Chief Esserman for bringing community policing back to town; she said she’d like to see it spark the same level of activism in less dense neighborhoods like Bishop Woods and upper Westville.

Then she told the group about her ride with Sgt. Brown. She said he convinced her the city needs a new fatherhood initiative. And cops who know Mookie’s real name.

“If you see Mookie on the corner—and you call him David Porter, or whatever,” Harp said, “that raises his level of concern. He knows you know who he is and where he lives.”

A Paramedic Idea

The press conference did not include any new proposals from Harp. The campaign is still working on a public safety platform to be unveiled in coming weeks. Thursday’s events were intended as part of the fact-gathering process.

That was the point of a visit to the basement of the Elks Club, where black and Latino firefighters waited to speak with her.

New Haven Fire Lt. Gary Tinney (pictured) of International Association of Black Professional Firefighters pitched a plan to conduct courses as part of regular high school for students to obtain certification as paramedics and emergency medical techs.

That gets them started on possible firefighting careers, he noted; people can apply for firefighting jobs once they turn 18. Paramedic certification also opens the doors to all sorts of jobs that pay $60,000 to $70,000 a year, he said.

“That’s our new factory,” Tinney said—meaning that with manufacturing jobs largely gone from New Haven, public-safety-related jobs offer a career path for New Haven kids.

He and other firefighters, who already spend time in New Haven schools urging kids to join the profession, told Harp they need a mayor’s help to open doors like these to kids who aren’t bound for college.

Harp called Tinney’s idea “cutting-edge.” She spoke of recently attending a Denver conference on working families, where she learned about similar models for certification programs that reach high-school kids and open doors to careers ranging from public safety to nursing. We’re losing too many kids in high school who don’t see viable paths to jobs, she and the firefighters agreed. She listened, she slipped in a passing reference to her experience, she offered support—in other words, she was campaigning for mayor.

Later, Tinney said the group will also invite other mayoral candidates to address them.

“She’s very empathetic,” Tinney said of Harp. “Especially since she’s gone to Denver and listened to these presentations. She’s going to care about our youth.

“I’m not saying the other candidates aren’t.”


Previous “On The Campaign Trail With The Candidates” coverage:

Keitezulu Blazes His Own Campaign Trail
Elicker Dives Into Dixwell
Holder-Winfield Walks Miles In His Wing-Tips
Read His Lips

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posted by: Curious on June 13, 2013  6:39pm

The best candidates spend enough time in New Haven already that they are intimately familiar with what the problems are.

You can have all the money and connections and endorsements you want, but if you don’t KNOW New Haven, you shouldn’t be mayor.

posted by: Righteous Cyclist on June 13, 2013  7:27pm

It takes some serious balls to start a gang called Slut Wave in a city with really hardcore gangs like the R2, Le Tre, Twenty-luv, Bedside Crips, Pud Uglies, and the Snuggle Glocks.

Paul, can you do a profile of that gang, or all the Gangs of New Haven?

posted by: robn on June 13, 2013  8:18pm

Maybe there’s so much crime in Newhallville because we can’t afford to pay for more community policing because there are too many property tax deadbeats in town.

posted by: citysavior on June 13, 2013  8:30pm

It’s nice to see Senator Harp has taken a tour with the police. Few observations 1st why wasn’t the Newhallville district Manager Lt. Ken Blanchard not there to brief the senator? I would guess that he knows all the crime spots and issues in that area a lot better than Brown. The police department is recruiting officers why would a police supervisor be discussing firefighters recruitment instead of police recruitment? god knows the police department can use more New Haven residents as police officers . Harp raises a few good points about parental accountability as well as slum lords who make their money from the property then abandon them. From my knowledge many community district managers know the kids on their radar the challenge is to know all the good and bad which is why community policing is labor intensive and costly. In order to make the city police force and the community operating on the same page all of us MUST help to get New Haven officers by recruiting New Haven residents. Police reaching out to kids through youth programs at 4th and 5th grades would help that effort. The program that the firefighter mentioned was run out of Wilbur Cross in the late 1990’s and was successful look it up.

[Editor: Sgt. Brown did not talk about firefighter recruitment with Harp (or in the article). Firefighters did, at a separate event later in the day.]

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on June 14, 2013  4:29am

I’m very glad to read about Senator Harp’s ride along and her active engagement with the professionals who make the City run.  I hope that she continues, and all other candidates begin, to do the same.  It is very nice to see someone getting into the meat of the issues before espousing simple policy platforms.

Indeed, based upon the simple story here and the ease at which people from problem neighborhoods can transfer from one to another, it does not appear as though a gang injunction in its typical format would be viable.  Moreover, there is likely an issue of ex-convict reintegration that is occurring.  Many of the former criminals of the 80s and 90s are likely now coming up for parole or simply release from prison for time served.  Many, though not nearly all, of those are likely a key piece to driving down crime.

I’m glad to hear the Senator talk about the jobs platform and its connection to crime with respect to young adults.  She gets it and I’m sure most candidates do.  She also gets it with respect to the need for adult education. 

Also, I’m glad that the article gave a history of her role in initially driving down crime in New Haven through forward thinking.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on June 14, 2013  8:12am

Maybe if the Harp family paid the owed taxes we could afford a few more cops?

Elicker has been doing this all along, not just as a publicity thing or “to get in touch with the little people” but because that is what real leaders do. A bit shocked after all these years of representing this city she seems to has lost touch at the top of that ladder.

Side note: BROWN ROCKS IT!!! Best cop we have ever met in Cedar HIll…..we real want to steal him from dixwell!!

posted by: Hill Resident on June 14, 2013  8:16am

Slut wave gang left the Hill because of the Community Policing efforts under the leadership of Lt. Joe Witkowski and Lt. Holly Wasilewski and the support of the Hill community. This is being ‘revived’ in Newhallville - one of the last ‘hold-outs’ for these gangs.  Like the wild west! Now that they are cornered, it’s time to sweep in… Operation Project Longevity.

posted by: WestRiver on June 14, 2013  9:50am

You would think senator Harp would already be well acquainted with the problems in Newhallville since it is part of her district.Where has she been all these years.These problems did not develop overnight.

posted by: FacChec on June 14, 2013  10:32am

Conundrum Analysis….

At the root of the discussion is an elusive search for an explanation—an explanation for why, as shootings continue to decline everywhere else in New Haven but the violence has remained so concentrated in Newhallville.

Harp’s Questions:

1. “It seems,” Harp observed, “like there are a lot of rundown vacant houses.” Might that have something to do with Newhallville’s disproportionate crime problem?

2. “If you see Mookie on the corner—and you call him David Porter, or whatever,” Harp said, “that raises his level of concern. He knows you know who he is and where he lives.”

Answers here:


Nemerson response:

“Nemerson called for a greater presence of not just cops but also housing regulators in Newhallville, as well as street-sweepers and street-lighting repair crews. Police not just the shooters, but also the absentee landlords, he said”.

“Let’s get more LCI [Livable City Initiative] inspectors out there. Let’s be monitoring Section 8 tenants and landlords much more closely. And let’s make sure there’s a uniform treatment of the streets. When you have streets with trash and rundown houses, people are hanging out,” Nemerson argued.

Candidate Matthew Nemerson also noted the predominance of abandoned and rundown, absentee-owned houses in Newhallville. He said young people who cause trouble tend to congregate by those properties.

OK then, the problem has been identified by four candidates in a span of two weeks..

Why does the problem continue to exist after years of action/inaction and millions in police/fire overtime, busting budgets???


posted by: kbbyfc13 on June 14, 2013  11:14am

I’m a resident of Newhallville and it is interesting to me that She did not speak to any of the people we actually live in the community. That have a better clue of what is going on in most cases. Not to mention we are the people that she is asking to vote for her in November.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on June 14, 2013  11:55am

@FacChec you want my jaded option. Because poverty and crime means more federal money for the city. There is no real interest in cleaning it up or ending it, maybe occasionally relocating it so it appears they have made things better. 

Just my jaded thought…but I do think there are several democracy fund candidates that do get that and have real solutions.

posted by: Noteworthy on June 14, 2013  12:32pm


Talking to people who live there would require walking the street and meeting people without a cop and a gun.

posted by: Solid45 on June 14, 2013  12:42pm

Keep up the Good work Sgt. Brown, it is terrific that you had to drive to another district for the “Hot Spots.”  You and your officers should be proud.

posted by: kbbyfc13 on June 14, 2013  1:18pm

@Noteworthy you are right! Funny how they need a escort but the people living there everyday walk and live without one. Doesn’t make me feel like she really wants to know or cares whats going on. Like most Politician just doing things to make them look good and make us think they care.

posted by: TheMadcap on June 14, 2013  2:46pm

The people who live in some areas of this city including Newhallville wouldn’t mind an escort at times either. At least Keitazulu was willing to tell it as it is

Fifteen minutes later, Keitazulu pulled up on Livingston Street between Canner and Cold Spring. Unlike in Newhallville and the Hill, he left the windows rolled down, the doors unlocked, his cell phone in plain view in the center console. “I know where I am now,” he said. No one’s going to steal anything in East Rock, he suggested.

posted by: markcbm on June 14, 2013  5:00pm

@Noteworthy & @kbbyfc13:

Couldn’t agree more. 

And for those who think I have a pro-Fernandez bias, I wouldn’t disagree, but props where they are due: Elicker, Holder-Winfield, and Keitazulu did much of their tours on foot (granted, Elicker didn’t hoof it through the ‘ville, but Dixwell is close enough in my book). 

I’m quite surprised Senator Harp, advocate of community policing, would tour the community from the confines of a police cruiser rather than get to know the concerns of the neighborhood and its residents better by walking - the rationale behind community policing.

Anyway, regarding the Newhallville “conundrum”, it’s worth recognizing that other rough neighborhoods in New Haven have been or are about to be razed or seriously renovated (e.g. the Tribe, Brookside, the Island, the Jungle, the G, etc.), which oftentimes resulted in mixed-income housing and/or relocating many former residents to locations further flung from downtown (i.e. exit 8 on 91 and other areas).  The Tre underwent a crackdown last year and has seen a continued police presence, making continued tomfoolery there difficult. 

Additionally, seeing as Fairhaven and the Hill are large neighborhoods, it could be that, although they still have their hotspots, crime rates average out in those places better than in Newhallville, not to mention that these neighborhoods have more middle/lower-middle-class areas than Newhallville, where middle/lower-middle-class areas also exist, but are counted as the Hamden part of Newhallville.

Of course, there may be other, stronger factors at play in the neighborhood crime statistics, but the ones above seem worth considering.

posted by: WestRiver on June 14, 2013  5:53pm

No more tomfoolery nor shenanigans.That should be the next mayors motto.And I mean that sincerely.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on June 14, 2013  7:12pm

Sigh…....can’t even comment this is so blatant and obvious.

posted by: anonymous on June 15, 2013  2:03pm

“Additionally, seeing as Fairhaven and the Hill are large neighborhoods, it could be that, although they still have their hotspots, crime rates average out in those places better than in Newhallville.”

Absolutely true.  Comparing Newhallville to Fair Haven/Hill is like comparing Bangladesh to India. Those areas have their hot spots too.

posted by: RCguy on June 15, 2013  9:39pm

I’m just curious why Toni Harp has never run for mayor before.

She was satisfied with DeStefano for over 20 years???

posted by: elmhurst1 on June 17, 2013  10:30am

We need a mayor who doesn’t need to be driven around the neighborhood she’s ‘represented’ for twenty years.

She needs the problem areas pointed out to her? From a van? That’s how she campaigns?

Great photo op though.

posted by: SaveOurCity on June 17, 2013  11:38am

Sure smells like a classic political stunt….if we really believe that Harp is unfamiliar with a town that she has been representing (at local and state levels) for almost 30 years, then a rational voter would be very concerned with providing support. 

Officer Brown appears to be a very thoughtful and responsible member of the force but he should consider raising the bar a bit in reporting on candidates.  In my book, being on time and parking legally are basic expectations - not acts that should elicit praise.