Westville Fights Crime With Ideas

Markeshia Ricks PhotoWestville neighbors went looking for solutions to a recent uptick in crime in the neighborhood. They found them by picking each other’s brains instead of their pockets.

More than 50 neighbors gathered to do that at a community meeting held Wednesday night at Edgewood School.

Ideas included having a citizens’ patrol much like those credited with helping clean up parts of the Edgewood neighborhood back in the day; bringing back the neighborhood soups; and turning on porch lights.

All ideas were welcomed even if they made people uncomfortable.

The meeting was organized by neighbor Jonathan Gordon and Ward 25 Alder Adam Marchand as a way to respond proactively to a wave of crimes that have alarmed both Westville newcomers and lifers alike.

Ideas flowed after neighbors listened to about 45 minutes of people asking questions of Marchand and new Westville top cop Lt. Rose Dell and sharing anecdotes about repeated car break-ins, stolen cars, and theft.

One woman said prior to moving to Westville, she’d lived in the Smoothie building in Wooster Square and Downtown across from the Green. Living in Westville has been the “most unsafe I’ve ever felt,” she said. She said she’s afraid to come out of the house and walk her dog.

Ouch.

It was tough to hear for a walkable family neighborhood that is proud of its reputation as among the “safer” ones in the city.

Jonathan Gordon joined a group in the center of the room that included longtime Westville residents Janis Underwood, Susan McCaslin, Tom LoRicco and Westville Village Renaissance Alliance’s Lizzy Donius. His first suggestion was one of the evening’s most provocative: a citizens’ patrol.

Neighbors would volunteer to attach a yellow dome light to their vehicles and patrol the neighborhood in shifts, keeping an eye out for suspicious activity and call the cops.

“That’s a very risky idea,” Underwood said. “You don’t know what state of mind someone might be in. There has been a huge spike in addiction to opioids.”

LoRicco saw the idea as more of a block watch on wheels. McCaslin raised concern that it could open the door to vigilantism.

Underwood said she liked the idea that Gordon had offered at a previous community management team meeting to install blue lights similar to those downtown around Yale University. But that costs a lot. (Fair Haven recently did it.)

Gordon had directed neighbors early in the meeting to a possibly more economical solution, a phone application called Noon Light. It offers a similar quick way to reach the police department in the case of a crime, assuming that a thief doesn’t take your wallet and your iPhone X. Lt. Dell said she tested it and it works, though it’s not a direct line to police. It also has a free trial and then a $2.99 a month fee.

Donius said she often walks the neighborhood because she lives and works in it. Instead of formal patrols, she suggested that neighbors make a point of getting out of the house.

“It’s dark, and there’s not a lot of people on the street,” she said. “I would feel better if we all were out more.”

(Amen from this reporter, who lives in the neighborhood and is often walking around at night. My suggestion: Turn on your porch light to help illuminate dark streets that also badly need tree trimming.)

“We have block watches. Couldn’t we beef them up?” Underwood suggested. And how about an emergency response system of sorts that alerts neighbors if there is police activity in an area? she added.

Some neighbors had complained early in the meeting about the quality of police response. Underwood noted that she has seen an increased police patrol, and she lives on a dead end street.

Donius cautioned people to have some perspective about what has happened in the neighborhood. She noted that in Ward 25 (the Westville flats, between Edgewood Park and the elevated Upper Westville area) there had been two street robberies in recent months. That is as violent as crime has been in that part of the neighborhood. The gun incidents at Roosevelt’s bar in Westville Village (technically in Ward 27) are fairly localized to that part of the neighborhood and generally involve only people who patronize that business, she said.

“Our police district is a much broader area,” she said. That means that when big increases in crimes, including violent crimes, are reported, they cover a district that includes West Rock, West Hills, Westville Village, Amity, Beverly Hills, Westville, and Upper Westville. Also, because violent crime is so rare, one or two more of a particular crime than usual makes the increase appear dramatic.

McCaslin said she likes an idea that Underwood had offered at a previous meeting: designating safe houses. She said an extension of that idea would be for groups of neighbors to make it a point to go to each other’s doors and introduce themselves and share details about when they’re home. That way people in the neighborhood would know that they can knock on a neighbors door if they need help.

Donius seconded that idea, especially for the neighbor afraid to leave her home.

“She’s new and she’s our neighbor. We should talk to her,” Donius said. “I have two kids under 12 who run across the street and down the block and I don’t think about them for hours at a time because I know the neighborhood. And the neighborhood knows my kids.”

Gordon brought the conversation back to the citizen patrol suggesting instead a private security guard paid for by Ward 25 neighbors.

“We could hire an armed security guard to do the job,” he said. “That takes the burden off the neighbors.”

He made the suggestion because the police these days have a staffing shortage, especially for patrol cops. Because of concerns raised by an uptick in reported thefts and car break-ins, Dell has been given the police department’s only D Squad officer (who works from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.) Gordon noted that the staff shortages are only expected to get worse given the city’s financial outlook and the problem of officer retention. So even that officer is likely to be reassigned at some point.

A paid security person would need to be someone local who knows the neighborhood, Underwood said.

“I think we’re underestimating our own power,” she said.

She noted that neighbor Kate Bradley and those who live on West Rock Avenue were successful in stopping prostitution on their street simply by calling each other and en masse going out on their front porches nightly and showing that they could see what people were doing.

“Guess what?” Underwood said. “It was no longer convenient for them to do their business there.”

Dell said that there is nothing to stop neighbors from creating a citizen’s patrol. She said she would encourage any such patrol to view itself as an extension of the block watch and not the city’s police department; and to ensure anyone neighbors hire privately has the right training. That person could even be an extra duty officer.

When neighbors reported out at the end of the meeting they had many similar ideas about reactivating block watches, working with the city to get trees trimmed. Gordon’s group was the only one that offered the citizen patrol and private security detail solution, which drew audible grumbles of “no” in parts of the room.

Another group comically suggested that neighbors set bear traps but also engage in “shaming the hell” out of building owners who take on tenants that refuse to be good neighbors. There also was a suggestion from a neighbor who is originally from Mexico that people deploy whistles. The neighborhood could have signaled whistles that let people know if they should stay in their house or call for help. A curfew for children under 18 was among the solutions offered, too.

Dell said she thought the meeting was great and exactly what the “shared responsibility” for policing should look like.

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posted by: absolutmakes on November 8, 2018  12:44pm

...Living in Westville has been the “most unsafe I’ve ever felt…She said she’s afraid to come out of the house and walk her dog.”...

Really? This seems preposterous to me.

I, too, previously lived in the Smoothie building, Wooster Square, and Downtown (right off the green) and my neighborhood (Westville, Ward 25) feels SO much safer than any of those areas. Living in Wooster Square, I was actually held up at gun point on Christmas Eve (circa 2009/10).

Having lived in my home for nearly 7 years the neighborhood actually feels safer to me now than when I moved in back in 2012 (my car window was smashed back in 2013/14 and car was broken into separately about a year after that). Our neighbors have lived in the area since the 70’s and they have shared stories of break-ins and robberies they’ve experienced. I understand that crime rates may have recently ticked up, but I simply cannot relate to someone saying that they are afraid to go outside their home.

We’ve got several young children at home and they are always playing outside and exploring the neighborhood as we go on walks at all hours of the dy. We’ve got incredible neighbors - everyone knows each other. We call or text if and when we see something suspicious.  We ask one another to help if and when someone is going out of town.

I’m not ignorant - I know there is crime. I am worried about car break-ins and the gunpoint robbery from a couple weeks ago, but please don’t try to spin the narrative that Westville is so unsafe that residents can’t even go outside their homes.

Westville is an incredible neighborhood, great for families, and I’m a proud resident.

posted by: Molly W on November 8, 2018  3:04pm

As a Westville resident: no way to the security guard and no way to a neighbor patrol vigilante group! I’m in favor of turning front lights on and being out and about as much as one wants to/is able- cuz these are nice things to do/be anyway. Our family is not untouched by crime in the last year and I’m glad that we had the opportunity to handle it ourselves. The last thing we needed was someone uninvited getting involved. It’s a bummer but it’s not specific to Westville and it’s not specific to New Haven. I don’t think Westville is exceptional and I don’t want exceptional treatment, whether rogue or official. Our kids walk around our city with us and alone and we maintain that our city is safe. If this neighborhood starts putting people on the streets patrolling, my kids and their friends will be and feel less safe.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 8, 2018  4:45pm

Jonathan Gordon joined a group in the center of the room that included longtime Westville residents Janis Underwood, Susan McCaslin, Tom LoRicco and Westville Village Renaissance Alliance’s Lizzy Donius. His first suggestion was one of the evening’s most provocative: a citizens’ patrol.Neighbors would volunteer to attach a yellow dome light to their vehicles and patrol the neighborhood in shifts, keeping an eye out for suspicious activity and call the cops.

I can see this happening to people of color when they call the police.

Shooting of Trayvon Martin

Zimmerman, a 28-year-old mixed race Hispanic man, 1] was the neighborhood watch coordinator for his gated community where Martin was visiting his relatives at the time of the shooting.[3][4][5] Zimmerman shot Martin, who was unarmed, during a physical altercation between the two. Zimmerman, injured during the encounter, claimed self-defense in the confrontation.

How 911 calls on blacks are a new twist
It’s getting hard to keep up with the latest hashtags devoted to 911 calls on black people.
There’s SittingInStarbucksWhileBlack, BarbecuingWhileBlack, GolfingWhileBlack, EatingSubwayWhileBlack, and even WearingSocksWhileBlack.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/10/us/white-flight-911-calls/index.html

When White People Call the Police on Black People

What makes the police encounters chilling is how routine they are.They happen while black people are going about their everyday lives, only to be interrupted by someone calling the police for the thinnest of suspicions.In the past month, more than a handful of such interactions have attracted widespread attention on social media — and, in turn, in national outlets like The Times, CNN and The Washington Post.“It happens so frequently to people of color that we don’t often think of it as a big deal or as particularly newsworthy,” said Paul Butler, a Georgetown University law professor.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/11/us/black-white-police.html

posted by: brownetowne on November 9, 2018  10:52am

Is it the City’s position that they know there is a problem but are unable to provide needed resources to combat crime in Westville?  If so, then a private security force seems like a reasonable option.

posted by: Molly W on November 9, 2018  11:11am

Anything that could be described as a citizen patrol or private security force is going to make our city’s residents less safe. There will be racial profiling, there will be calls made for no reason other than a young black man walking down HIS street, calls made because a black man is driving his work truck carefully down HIS street, and people that like to stop and look at things will be seen as threatening. To anyone that considers a vigilante group or private security guard as a good idea, I urge you to first consider moving to Woodbridge.

posted by: Jonathan Gordon on November 10, 2018  10:04am

To THREEFIFTHS:

I understand your concern, and I only take issue with the idea being construed as racist.  It seems to be automatically assumed that people of color will be targeted, and that this is some sort of “white patrol”.  Why is it assumed the people of color wouldn’t be part of a patrol?  This idea has no racist intent of any sort, so I’d appreciate it if it’s not assigned to me or my idea.  Cameras throughout Westville have shown criminals of many races, including white.  We should look for people who act suspiciously, not people of any specific race.  The idea didn’t get any traction, but I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the idea as a potential way to address crime.  If for some reason it was implemented, it would have to be accompanied by rigorous training to prevent Zimmerman-type situations - that’s an absolute, we can’t have that type of situation happen.
Furthermore, the idea has evolved into hiring an off-duty New Haven police officer instead of a private security officer or citizens patrol.  Aside from the fact that Westville residents would need to pay a fee to make this happen, is this any different than having a full-time New Haven officer assigned to patrol Westville?  And if not, would you oppose an additional officer patrolling Westville if New Haven was able to provide one?

posted by: Jonathan Gordon on November 10, 2018  10:06am

To Molly W:

Your assumption of racism is somewhat shocking, and how dare you “urge” people who feel unsafe to move to Woodbridge rather than fight to keep Westville safe.  Saying that New Haven overall is safe is laughable, and Westville is very much exceptional – why are homes more expensive here than in most other New Haven neighborhoods?  Out of all of the neighborhoods in New Haven, why did you choose to live in Westville?  If it had anything to do with Westville being safer than other neighborhoods, then what you say is hypocritical.  Furthermore, using words like “vigilante” is a gross misrepresentation of the idea, and of my intent in bringing it up.  I respectfully request that you stop the vitriol and come up with a creative suggestion of your own that isn’t “let’s keep all of the lights on”, which has been done and hasn’t worked.  When you call crime “a bummer” rather than something that needs to be addressed as a serious issue, you’re part of the problem.  You are marginalizing victims of crime.

To everyone:

I stuck my neck out and worked hard to make this meeting happen to try to help deal with the crime wave in Westville when nobody else would.  Instead of levying criticism at controversial ideas (and yes, I know they are controversial) how about offering some solutions of your own?

posted by: Dennis Serf on November 10, 2018  7:50pm

Thank you Jonathan Gordon. The vast majority of us support your efforts.

Dennis Serfilippi
https://newhavenct.squarespace.com/

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 11, 2018  9:23pm

posted by: Jonathan Gordon on November 10, 2018 10:04am

To THREEFIFTHS:

I understand your concern, and I only take issue with the idea being construed as racist.

I did not say your idea is being construed as racist.

What I said was I can see this happening to people of color when they call the police.

We should look for people who act suspiciously, not people of any specific race. 

What does act suspiciously look like?Now from what I have been reading when the cops are called on people of color the caller always say they are act suspiciously. Check this out.

A black child’s backpack brushed up against a woman. She called 911 to report a sexual assault.

A New York woman became the subject of ridicule and hatred on social media after she falsely accused a boy of groping her while she was shopping inside a deli.

https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/411241-white-woman-called-police-to-falsely-accuse-black-child-of


Woman fired after video shows her blocking black man from entering his own apartment building

https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/white-woman-blocks-black-man-apartment-building-video

Actor Ving Rhames said neighbor called 911 to report him as ‘a large black man’ breaking in
The actor was told that a female neighbor had called police to report “a large black man was breaking into the house.”

Actor Ving Rhames said he was a target of racial profiling earlier this year after Los Angeles police came to his home and held him at gunpoint in response to a neighbor calling 911.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/actor-ving-rhames-said-neighbor-called-911-report-him-large-n895611

I am not oppose an additional officer patrolling Westville if New Haven was able to provide one. I am just saying in Today’s Climate. I can see this happening to people of color when they call the police.

posted by: Sabrina-in-NewHaven on November 13, 2018  11:33am

Yes, let’s all please just pretend like @THREEFIFTHS is not making a valid point because there are just as many white men being questioned by the police for walking down the street looking suspicious. No one wants to talk about race so they make up some story about what they went through or someone else went through with the police, totaling forgetting the fact that the likelihood that they will end up dead is ZERO TO NONE. I don’t walk around anywhere at night because as a woman of color and despite the fact that I have lived in my neighborhood for 6 years and have been out at night walking the same damn dog (well-dressed dog I might add for the past THREE years) I still get unwelcoming dirty looks on certain blocks.

Neighbor patrols are a bad idea. The last thing any neighborhood needs are citizens that think they know what suspicious looks like. The f^ck you don’t!!!

STOP PRETENDING LIKE PROFILING DOESN’T EXIST. It still exists because 86% of the nation does not give a shit about the 14% who are profiled & gunned down unnecessarily. All of your useless thoughts and prayers go to mass shootings. Not to the Michael Browns and Philando Castile of the world.

“Hello, 911. What is your emergency?” ‘Officer a black guy is breaking into a car’ Cops show up. A guy is shot in the back. “oh my bad” He was just sitting IN HIS OWN FUCKING CAR. Happened at a Wal-Mart. Google it. Tell the police to do their job. Keep the lights on your porch. Demand more lighting. Use attack bats! Anything but policing your own streets.

posted by: Dennis Serf on November 13, 2018  2:03pm

There will be another meeting tmrw, Weds Nov 14th, to address Crime in Westville (and potential solutions, and objections/support for potential solutions). Details are as follows:

Westville-West Hills Community Management Team (WWHCMT)
Meetings are every 2nd Wednesday of the month, 6:30-8PM
Mauro-Sheridan Interdistrict Magnet School
191 Fountain St. New Haven, CT 06515


Dennis Serfilippi
https://newhavenct.squarespace.com/

posted by: Jonathan Gordon on November 13, 2018  5:27pm

To THREEFIFTHS:

I see what you mean – in my opinion, suspicious would be going up and down the streets trying to open every car door along the way, or hiding in the bushes in front of a house – but, I can see how someone might decide that someone walking down the street minding their own business is suspicious.  I don’t have a particularly good answer myself, and I’m afraid that there may not be one.

The chances of New Haven adding an on-duty officer to Westville right now is slim to none (there’s no money), which is why I posed some other thoughts and ideas.  Right now, my best thought is hiring an off-duty New Haven officer to do night patrols – that way the person who is patrolling is a trained police officer who actually works for New Haven and not just someone from the community or elsewhere.

posted by: Jonathan Gordon on November 13, 2018  5:31pm

To Sabrina-in-NewHaven:

If you’re addressing me directly, then please just address me directly.  I’m happy to have the discussion.  I know that racism is rampant in this country, as is profiling.  I’m white – I don’t like to talk about race because I don’t have the experiences that you’ve had as a person of color, and therefore I can’t say from experience what you can.  I’m sorry that you get unwelcoming dirty looks and that you’ve had to deal with what you’ve dealt with in this regard.

The neighborhood patrol is an idea – not a mandate - bad or not, it opened up the discussion in a good way.  Obviously, it’s not a good idea for Westville and/or New Haven based on what you and others have said.  I’ve switched gears to the idea of hiring an off-duty New Haven officer instead, but if I’m reading what you wrote correctly, you’re saying that the idea of “if you see something say something” is too dangerous for people of color due to profiling.  If we see a person actually breaking into a car, what are we supposed to do?  I don’t want someone who is innocent to be hurt or killed, and I don’t want someone’s car to be broken into, just as I wouldn’t want my car to be broken into.  What is someone like me supposed to do?

You’ve said:

“Tell the police to do their job” – they do, but we need MORE police in Westville, and we can’t get any because New Haven isn’t paying their police force enough money to retain them.  That’s a problem that can’t be solved quickly.  That’s why we need other solutions.  That’s why I put together the meeting.

“Keep the lights on your porch” – we do that too, but it hasn’t exactly been a deterrent.  It doesn’t work.

“Demand more lighting” – again, no money in New Haven for that, and it hasn’t been a deterrent.

“Use attack bats” – I’m not going to respond to that one.

(continued)

posted by: Jonathan Gordon on November 13, 2018  5:33pm

(from above)

We’re told “be vigilant”, which was always assumed to mean “if you see something say something”.  Profiling often results.  The problem then becomes, if we can’t call the police to try to prevent crime, then what are we supposed to do to prevent crime?  Just respond to it when it happens?  Wait to be the next victim?  We’ve had two armed muggings in Westville – is that something that I should just deal with as part of life?  We need good ideas – it’s very easy to tear an idea down and write off the person who suggested it, but it’s much harder to come up with new good ideas.  Do you think that hiring an off-duty New Haven officer would be a good middle ground?  If not, what do you recommend?

posted by: westville man on November 14, 2018  11:50am

Jonathan,  Thanks for your efforts.  But you are running up against a large segment of Westville residents that do not particularly care or want to be involved with fighting or preventing crime. I know this after 20 years of living here. Some in the neighborhood have complained that leaving the porch lights on cost them money. Others walk right by with their dogs as drug deals go down and prostitution takes place in parked vehicles. Some in the neighborhood are actually selling drugs and causing some of the problems. Their families throw their hands up in the air.
So what do we do? We photograph vehicles and call them into the police. We have cars towed with expired registrations that the drug dealers leave on the street as they head to the park or the drug dealers house. It is a constant battle but we do our best to keep our small area clear of the criminals. Floodlights in the backyard and on the garage help.
And if you want a good laugh, consider that when they put the new streetlights in with brighter and better technology, some in the neighborhood complained about “light pollution”. 
As far as paying for additional security, that would depend upon cost for me to consider.

posted by: Dennis Serf on November 14, 2018  12:12pm

I have a suggestion.

Most of us with an outdoor Security camera can share the live feed online. If enough of us did this we could monitor a large part of the neighborhood, and do it remotely. In theory we could even pay people in other time zones to monitor the cameras. More efficient, safer, and less controversial than police or private patrols. I’m sure some people will complain, but that’s true of all suggestions. Cameras are very affordable. I paid $100 for mine and the live video is only $5 per month.                                                      When my neighbors car was broken into last month we were able to see the perpetrators for about 1.5 blocks btw my camera and the ones at the Westville Market. It happened at 2:30 AM, and the thieves were checking for unlocked doors on all the cars. So it was clear these people were up to no good. With cameras, you can identify where the suspects are located and then call the police to let them determine if someone is breaking the law.

Dennis Serfilippi
https://newhavenct.squarespace.com/

posted by: Sabrina-in-NewHaven on November 15, 2018  11:29am

@Jonathan Gordon I was addressing anyone who was in alignment with the idea of community policing by citizens. I appreciate your comments. However, my suggestions are not really solutions. I say that because as someone who studies public policy we have already done our job. We elect people to handle problems and run the city.  And when their policies fail we think we have to pick up the slack. We need to go to the mayor’s office and tell her to grow some balls. I’ve only lived in New Haven 6 years so I can only comment on what I’ve observed and it’s troubling. This city is behind the times because I doubt anyone stands for what a future New Haven looks like, economically, culturally or socially. People stay in power way too long. Cronyism everywhere. We need our NHP Chief to show up at your meeting. Campbell needs to be accountable. He needs to look all citizens in the face and tell you about the cuts, why the lack of patrol cars, why the uptick in crime, and what HE IS GOING TO DO ABOUT IT. I’m glad a local officer was available but she is not in charge. And I don’t trust lip service because it is more of the same game public servants play. I don’t live in Westville but I am right next door in Beaver Hills. Right next door is the Dwight neighborhood where I witnessed a shooting first hand coming back from West Haven in 2016. I was with my mother who had to dodge the shooter while we were driving down Ellsworth.

I love the idea of cameras trained on areas of high/likely activity. New Haven has been ‘talking’ about traffic cameras for years. They can’t find the money to do anything. Unless we are willing to become the most aggravating voice, nothing will get done. I actually would like this to be an all neighborhoods effort. It’s high time since the New Haven Green really represents how ‘well’ our city is run.