Community focus can keep crime down

For all that New Haven is safer than it used to be, this weekend was a reminder of just how dangerously chaotic our city can be.

From Sunday to Monday, four people were shot in the city, including a 14-year-old girl and the son of Yale Chaplain Frederick Streets. The shootings, which police have speculated are related to the rivalry between youths in the Newhallville and Dixwell neighborhoods, follow a summer of decreased violence and what had seemed a promising new outlook for New Haven.

The spate of shootings is a disappointing yet illustrative coda to Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s announcement last Thursday that the city will be reinvesting in its beleaguered community policing program. Community policing is a policing strategy that encourages officers to build bonds with community members through regular contact — walking their beats, not driving them — and to then work together with local residents in developing solutions to crime. But community policing is labor-intensive and expensive, and, in the recent past, New Haven has let its commitment to community policing erode.

The recent violence suggests the need for DeStefano’s renewed commitment to community policing, and it is frustrating only that the city did not take action sooner to refocus on proactive, not just reactive, police action. Most recently, the NHPD addressed neighborhood crime — such as the kind that has plagued Newhallville and Dixwell — through its ID-NET squad, which swooped into troubled neighborhoods for short time periods and patrolled the area thoroughly to keep crime down. ID-NET, though, has been criticized for being expensive and for drawing neighborhood beat cops away from the blocks, and people, that they know.

There’s a reason why a criminal commits a crime, and community-centered policing acknowledges that the solution to crime lays not just in arresting the perpetrator but also in addressing the cause. The recent wave of crime, stemming from long-simmering rivalries between young teenagers’ neighborhood gangs, shows how important it is for policing to go deeper than just arresting criminals. Arresting a teenager with a gun might get that gun off the street, but something constructive needs to be done further to engage the teen. To accomplish that, the police must first give the community a reason to trust them. New Haven is, thankfully, a far cry from New York City, where the community has erupted in anger following the police’s shooting oif an unarmed man 50 times, but New Haven’s police force should take advantage of that existing trust to work with city neighbors and make more progress on eradicating the causes of crime.

DeStefano’s recent announcement, therefore, is heartening, particularly because it was coupled with new movement on increasing youth programming, including the movement of Pierrette Silverman, his former deputy chief of staff, to lead the new youth initiative. The mayor’s leadership after his dedication to the campaign trail is sorely needed now, before the public loses more faith in the safety of our city.

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