Despite the recent spate of crimes in and around Yale, New Haven crime has declined considerably, if not always continuously, over the past decade since Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s inauguration in 1994.
Crime in New Haven has dropped from 16,215 crimes reported in 1994 to 8,911 crimes reported in 2002, according to statistics released by the New Haven Police Department based on Uniform Crime Report data. But that number increased to 9,051 in 2003, prompting some to claim that the crime decline of the 1990s is over.
“Over the mayor’s tenure, there is no question that we’ve made huge progress in decreasing crime,” said Rob Smuts ’01, the mayor’s chief of staff.
UCR data shows a notable decrease in arrests made since DeStefano’s inauguration, concurrent with the mayor’s expansion of crime-prevention programs. In 1994, arrests for aggravated assault in New Haven comprised 10.4 percent of all aggravated assault arrests in the state of Connecticut; in 2000, the last year for which data is publicly available, New Haven aggravated assault arrests accounted for 8.9 percent of state arrests.
Rape arrests in New Haven dropped from 10 percent to 6.2 percent of the state total in that time, motor vehicle theft decreased from 7.0 percent to 5.1 percent and robbery dropped from 12.6 percent to 9.8 percent. Only drug abuse violations have been on the rise, comprising 3.5 percent of total state arrests in 1994 before jumping to 8.5 percent in 2000.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 said action taken against crime in the past decade has improved the stability of neighborhoods in her constituency.
“Ten years ago people wouldn’t venture to Howe Street because of the crime,” she said. “There was so much prostitution and drug dealing. Now it’s an area frequented even by students.”
The focus on fighting crime began with DeStefano’s predecessor, former New Haven Mayor John Daniels, who expanded the city’s community policing program. Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, chair of the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee, said the program has flourished under DeStefano’s watch, making New Haven a model across the country for its effort to guard communities and keep the city safe.
“Backing the community-based police program shows [DeStefano’s] commitment,” Shah said. “He has not only made crime a priority, but he has selected the most competent and knowledgeable people to lead these programs.”
DeStefano has also expanded the community policing initiative by putting more police patrol cars into neighborhoods, Smuts said.
DeStefano also initiated a partnership between the City of New Haven, the New Haven Police Department and the Yale Child Study Center called the Child Development-Community Policing Program.
Intended to provide support for children who have been chronically exposed to crime while also reducing the number of juvenile offenders, the program has become a model for collaborative community intervention programs, according to the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence.
Management teams, who work with police and local leaders and are currently operating in 12 New Haven neighborhoods, also give residents an opportunity to take control of crime in their area, Smuts said.
Block watches, in which residents join together and commit to reporting neighborhood disturbances to the New Haven Police, have been particularly effective in fighting and preventing crime, Shah said.
“Things have gotten a lot better in the areas that have implemented the program because everybody knows what goes on their block and this program taps into that,” he said.
Still, concerns persist over whether the drop in crime has leveled off in the past couple of years.
“We’ll always have our issues,” Shah said. “We’re in Connecticut, but we’re also in an urban environment and that means we have to deal with subcultural activities like drug dealing and prostitution. On the other hand, we don’t have the same rampant crime we saw in the eighties because we’ve made strides to eradicate that.”
Smuts said that suggestions the crime rate is stabilizing provide opportunities for renewed commitment to fighting crime in the Elm City.
“The year the mayor took office there were 32 murders,” Smuts said. “That figure for the past three years has been eight, four and fifteen respectively, and there’s a concern about that jump in the last year. That just calls for rededication.”
Smuts also said state and national support for crime prevention has declined.
“This is a big concern for us because offenders are being re-released into society without adequate follow-up services, job-training and emotional counseling,” Smuts said.
Chen said she views the recent upturn in crime as a result of national issues of unemployment and a global economic downturn. Still, she said she thinks many crimes could easily be prevented.
“We need to educate people in an area about being street smart and improve their quality of life,” Chen said. “We need to make these neighborhoods areas where people are discouraged from committing a crime because they feel exposed.”
Shah said he would like to see citizens become active participants in preventing crime in their neighborhood.