Send Up The Drones?

Allan Appel PhotoWill police-controlled drones be the city’s answer to solving the chronic and sometimes terrifying dirt bike problem?

And why is the city not incorporating into the budget-in-progress a Financial Review and Audit Commission (FRAC) recommendation for a $25,00- to-$50,000 study for an “operational audit” of the police and fire departments?

Wouldn’t that shed needed light on just how the police and fire departments can function well even in lean times, with maybe reduced manpower and maybe not sending fire engines to heart attacks?

Those questions emerged Tuesday night at the monthly meeting of the Quinnipiac East Management Team (QEMT) during a lively question-and-answer session.

The Q & A followed a budget presentation by Mayor Toni Harp and her financial officials, Controller Daryl Jones and Acting Budget Director Michael Gormany.

The budget presentation was the latest in a series that the officials have made at neighborhood management team meetings.

The road show attracted attracted about 20 people to the library at the Ross/Woodward School, including outspoken gadflies including hopeful mayoral candidate Wendy Hamilton and activist Dennis Serfilippi.

Jones solicited the audience for any questions on “the people’s budget.” (Click here to read more about that.)

Hamilton stood and turned to the mayor, who had been sitting in the back of the room taking notes.

“Will you pledge not to raise property taxes?” Hamilton asked.

“Yes,” replied the mayor.

Hamilton pressed the mayor if she would put her commitment in writing. The mayor said she would, but cautioned, “If I do, some services may be cut.”

“But remember,” she added, “I proposed [a budget]. The alders approved.”

Serfilippi, who lives across town on Alden Avenue, raised two concerns. One was a FRAC recommendation to audit operations of fire and police services for efficiency.  The other was dirt and quad riding citywide, which, Serfilippi described as a scourge that the police are not solving. he said the menace makes it impossible for him to feel he can go out safely with his daughter.

“A year ago FRAC asked the city to look into the number of police [officers necessary], and the city didn’t do it. Why?” he asked

“We’re not a regular city,” replied the mayor.  “This is a city with a lot of poor areas. Until recently it was overrun with crime, and drugs. If you use a cookie-cutter” analysis —a mathematical formulation for number of officers required per population —“it doesn’t work.”

“I’m not buying it,” Serfilippi responded.

“You don’t have to be rude, sir.”

“I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“An operational audit is not cookie-cutter,” Serfilippi continued. “They’d take into consideration the colleges. The city just hasn’t made the effort. I think the city police have done a phenomenal job, but it does follow a national trend.”

Coming to the mayor’s defense, Jones asserted that New Haven’s drop in crime is greater than that in Hartford, Waterbury, and Bridgeport.

“We also have 45 Yale officers who supplement downtown,” Serfilippi parried.

“It helps,” Jones conceded, “but this is to the New Haven police department’s credit.”

Why does New Haven have four assistant police chiefs? Serfilippi asked, Harp reminded him that the number was set more a decade ago at the recommendation of the Police Executive Response Forum (PERF), which released a study about how to restore trust in a department after a federal corruption investigation. “That’s something we take seriously,” Harp said.

Quads And Drones

Serfilippi raised his hand again. No other hands were raised, so Jones called on him again.

Serfilippi moved on to quads and dirt bikes. “What’s the police plan to handle them?” he asked.

“Our police department monitors them online. The meet-ups. We go there because we have a no-pursuit policy. We try to take the bikes,” Jones responded.

But people are furious, Serfilippi responded, because the policy in his estimation hasn’t worked. “If the city doesn’t have the resources and technology, call in the Sstate. I’m tired of not being able to take my daughter to Edgewood Park.”

Jones insisted that the city does have good technology and good data. Serfilippi questioned whether dirt bike incidents even appear on the data.

“If it’s reported,” Jones replied.


Serfilippi was more intrigued with initiatives that district manager Lt. Jason Rentkowitz highlighted as under discussion. One involved police-operated drones that might follow the fast-moving offenders (a suggestion first made a while back in the Independent comments section by New Haven cop Christian Bruckhart).

Rentkowitiz called it a creative idea with some potential problems. “It requires licensing and New Haven has a canopy of trees,” which might make airborne pursuit difficult if not dangerous, he said.

“Not a panacea,” Serfilippi agreed.

Rentkowitz said he and other district managers are working other ideas, including online monitoringL “Bikes are a priority. We’re going to amp it up. When you guys are frustrated, so are we. We’ll get there by summer.”

After the meeting the mayor said she could not recall the specific FRAC recommendation Serfilippi mentioned, but promised to look into it.

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posted by: thecove on February 6, 2019  1:33pm

The idea of allowing police to pursue dirt bikes (preferred as indicated in the NHI poll) would be disastrous.  Most police pursuits end in crashes and motorcycle (dirt-bike) crashes usually result in fatalities.  The liability involved would financially break the city more than it is broken now.

posted by: observer1 on February 6, 2019  1:35pm

Don’t send the cops unless I need them and don’t send the fire department unless I am having a heart attack or my house is burning. Easy solutions if your neighbor is having the problem, but a different story if your having the problem. Years of kicking the fiscal can down the road have resulted in the current budget problems. As to dirt bikes and quads, I would call it a quality of life problem and start catching these hoodlums. They are not just fun loving kids, they are terrorists.  I am starting to get tired of people talking these problems to death while our city slowly dies. I guess it is starting to show in my comments. Sorry!

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on February 6, 2019  1:48pm

The average tree is 70 feet (according to research). Drones can legally be flown up to 400 ft; although, people fly them higher depending on where they are to make sure the drone does not interfere with aircraft (small or commercial). I fly my drown over the trees all the time while staying below 400ft, and I can maneuver it from one block to another in seconds. With speeds of 45mph up in the air, I am able to get from one location to the next in no time. The problem with Drones is the flight time is relatively short (30 minutes or so), and after a little over a mile from being away from the initial take off, it’ll automatically come back if the user doesn’t force it.

City of New Haven, just consult with people who fly these things on a regular and stop guessing. There are pros and cons. Drones will work in some cases, but it’ll be difficult. The drones that fly 100+ mph used in competitions, but their flight time is relatively short.

Good luck!

posted by: Bill Saunders on February 6, 2019  2:01pm

If the ‘dirt bike’ problem doesn’t exist unless it is reported, maybe some ‘techie’ can tweak the ‘Shot Spotter’ to pick up Dirt Bike Noise as well….

posted by: Dennis Serf on February 6, 2019  2:59pm

Two other important points with regards to this meeting.

1). We will hold a Townhall on Dirt Bikes (sad we have to say that) in mid-march to discuss the City’s plan to address the problem. Our elected officials will present their plan to the the public to address the problem. the NHPD wants to solve the problem but needs resources and support. So, we’ll get everyone in the same room (city and state elected officials), NHPD and State Police, and the general public can learn what the plan is and ask questions so we don’t need to go through another summer of chaos. the Mayor and NHPD have already committed to attending. We will invite the others. Date and time will depend upon the availability of the key players.

2. In Westville, non-violent crime rose 270% in January year over year, yet District 2 can’t get resources while the mayor has around-the-clock police detail. I asked the mayor why she needs police security at a time when crime is down, resources are scarce, and there is no specific threat? I asked if she would give up the resources. The Mayor responded by saying the security was recommended by the Chief (not sure if this was Campbell or Esserman) five years ago and she would ‘open the City up to liability if she gave up the police detail’. She would not commit to giving up the police detail even though she has the power to do so. We’ll need to ask the current Chief to explain if they believe the Mayor still needs the detail. And if she does, perhaps the City should consider using a resource other than a sworn NHPD offer, so our NHPD resources can be used in the field.

Dennis Serfilippi

posted by: FacChec on February 6, 2019  3:49pm

mayoral candidate Wendy Hamilton asked: “Will you pledge not to raise property taxes?” Hamilton asked.

“Yes,” replied the mayor.

Yo Windy.. the Mayor and Jones just receive approval to borrow/ bond $160M to cover the next five years of any budget short fall. What a rhetorical question that received a standard pat answer. where have you been, under a rock??

They are hiding the $160M Fac by holding the peoples budget, which merely provides the cover for their budget shenanigans, which taxpayer start to fork up in year six of the bond .

posted by: Paul Wessel on February 6, 2019  4:00pm

The drone idea is pretty cool.  How about offering a bounty for any video leading to the prosecution and conviction of whatever the crime is?  Let people like IloveMYcity203 do the work.

posted by: wendy1 on February 6, 2019  4:07pm

Maybe we should use drones to oversee the budget team.

Toni’s pledge——I’m not buying it.  She will not go after the state or Yale…but she will go after you.

I confronted her this once (Pat’s idea) but I will not do it again.  It’s hard to get angry at a little old lady (and I outweigh her by 50 pounds) but I will be happy to politely debate when the time comes.  I hope more folks run so we can have public debates around town…and you the voters will have more choices.  I bought a nice Ann Taylor suit for the debates and will even wear pantyhose.

posted by: wendy1 on February 6, 2019  4:09pm

FacChec, I’m definitely not hiding under the rock you’re hiding under.

posted by: Patricia Kane on February 6, 2019  4:17pm

Last night I thanked Daryl Jones and Mr. Gormany for their presentation. Their chart on the potential value of taxes from Yale and YNHH should be sent to every tax payers home.
  The problems of income and expenses are glaring; the solutions diverse.
  What I especially appreciated was hearing from Mayor Harp, first on her correcting my impression that she sat on the Board of Ed because she wanted to - when it was a legislated change - and second on the tax breaks to developers, which stem from 15 year old legislation that the Board of Alders should immediately rectify.
  The Mayor is knowledgeable and communicates well. I wish she connected with us more often and relied a bit less on her staffers. She is the Chief Executive and she is the one we want to hear from in the end.
  Wendy’s question re: a no new tax pledge to the Mayor was a surprise and a welcome one.
  Dennis Serfilippi had to stand his ground in reminding the Mayor and her staff that it would be a modest investment to find out what size police and fire staffs we actually need by having a professional evaluation to rely on. Considering the money going to myriad other studies, here’s one the public actually wants. I hope the City follows thru on this common sense suggestion that has been floated and ignored before.
    As to why 3 responders show up for every emergency call - police, a fire truck AND and EMS ambulance - the Mayor said that once the City is listed as a first responder, then fire fighters must show up by State law. Serfilippi challenged that by asking if a car, instead of a fire truck, would be sufficient. The answer wasn’t very clear, but it appeared that this might be a less expensive option.
  As candidates emerge, I’ll want to know who is prepared not just to describe a problem, but to act on it. Not that anyone expects a guarantee, but what is the plan of action?
  We need some creativity, vision and boldness this year.
  Let’s see who delivers.

posted by: Bill Saunders on February 6, 2019  5:44pm

I’m confused with Mayor Harp’s answer to Dennis Serfilippi regarding Police Staffing Levels.

“We’re not a regular city,” replied the mayor.  “This is a city with a lot of poor areas.”

Is there a model city somewhere with no poverty?  Haven’t heard of one.  This ain’t the suburbs.

In my view, the thing that makes us ‘most different’ from a ‘regular city’ is the presence of Yale.
Maybe Dennis has hit on something here…  A Tale of Two Police Departments.

How is Yale PD dealing with their ‘staffing levels’ vis a vis their ‘own expansion’, and how does that ultimately impact the needs of NHPD and the New Haven Taxpayer?

Recently,  when a Yale Cop stopped me on the street one night,  an NHPD showed up to the scene as well.
I always thought both Departments had equal arrest authority, yet they always seem to be ‘working together’.

What’s with the overlap?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 7, 2019  9:15am

The city and state can open up dirt bike tracks and charge a fee like some states are doing..

A divided Cleveland City Council approves $2.3 million dirt bike track proposal

The legislation authorizes city administrators to hire a firm to design and construct the $2.3 million facility at the Marion Motley Playfield, as well as an outside vendor to manage and maintain the park for five years.

A veteran Harlem biker claims to have an answer to the city’s controversial ATV craze, but officials are already dumping on the idea.

The sprawling park as proposed by Albert (Al Capone) Elkerson, who heads biker group 1Down5Up, would be a safe haven for dirt bikers.Elkerson, 46, envisions a biking oasis equipped with ramps, at least five different tracks and a bike-repair station. He says it could be located in Port Morris or Orchard Beach in the Bronx; the Flatlands or Floyd Bennett Field, in Brooklyn, or the area surrounding JFK Airport in southeast Queens.

Urban dirt bikes saved my life’ – a photo essay

Urban dirt bike riding has its roots in predominantly African American, low-income neighbourhoods of US cities with few recreation facilities.Hunted by police but idolised by followers, some street riders have risen from their inner-city neighbourhoods to find fame and big money sponsorship. Police crackdowns, though, are the most common response in cities around the world. In Washington, DC, authorities released photos of 245 wanted dirt bike and all-terrain vehicle – or quad bike – riders, while New Haven, Connecticut upped the ante by hitting riders with fines and reckless endangerment charges.Could urban dirt biking do a Nascar?

posted by: HewNaven on February 7, 2019  12:21pm

It’s dishonest to say about New Haven that “until recently it was overrun with crime, and drugs” though it does imply that your administration saved us all from such things. (*sarcastic pelosi clap)

It’s also dishonest to say that dirtbikes make it “impossible” to leave the house or go to the park, though it does further your point that children on ATVs scare you.

posted by: FacChec on February 7, 2019  1:51pm


scoop and toss is under a rock and a hard place too!

posted by: yim-a on February 7, 2019  2:31pm

If you take the time to research the dirt bike issue, as it presents throughout northeast metro areas (Baltimore, philly, Nyc), and the variety of municipal ordinances, law enforcement strategies, state laws, and community efforts that have been employed to curb the activity, you should come to a few conclusions.  One, they have all largely been ineffective.  Two,  likely only an aggressive and well managed drone surveillance program will keep them off the streets.  That’s just the difficult and complex truth of the matter.

posted by: FacChec on February 7, 2019  2:46pm

@Windy again…

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on February 8, 2019  9:21am

Pay close attention to that drones suggestion.  A police drone program has been controversial in Hartford, and ATVs were part of the original sales pitch there.

posted by: ShadowBoxer on February 8, 2019  1:11pm

Whenever I attend my Fairfield Prep reunions every five years, my classmates chide me and are aghast when they see “New Haven” emblazoned on my name tag.  “You bet!” I answer.  While my classmates moved to Darien, Westport & New Canaan I moved here twenty years ago and have mostly love it and sometimes hated it.  Having said that, quality of life has gone noticeably down hill over the last several years.  To be honest, the city’s quality of life is even worse than during the Great Recession and “Occupy New Haven” with tents on the green.  And what happens if you try and go vote?  You get stuck in a long line for four hour because the Registrar can’t be fired.  Does anyone think this will change soon? 

If the city has a dirt bike problem - which regardless of the origin of the culture - belong on dirt and not pavement, and also a firetruck and sirens problem, why not take Bill’s idea of equipping shot spotter to listen for the bikes, and then roll out the firetrucks and block them?  I am not advocating injuring the bikers, just cut of their route off and thus make riding downtown a traffic jam.

It is ironic there are signs all over town advising that it is okay not to give to panhandlers, but dirt bike terrorists, and they are tolerated, right?  The old guy asking for a quarter won’t kill me, the dirt bike just might.  And if i got loaded and careened through the city in my car, weaving in and out of traffic, I would be chased, should be chased, apprehended and jailed.  So?? 

And where is the University of New Haven in all of this?  Don’t they have like a world renowned criminology and criminal justice department?  Has the city thought to collaborate w/ them?  Probably not.  This is broken government, and it is simply not innovative and smart which is what we need. 

Employ drones, roll out fire trucks since they are all over everywhere anyway, and enable shot spotter to listen and pinpoint the riders.  I’m all for rec time but but don’t endanger me or my kids