Murder rate jumps as crime decreases

New Haven may have experienced an overall reduction in crime in 2006 for the first time in three years, but the number of murders committed jumped 60 percent, from 15 in 2005 to 24 in 2006, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Police Chief Francisco Ortiz announced earlier this month.

The statistics, released Jan. 4 in the city’s annual public safety report, show that there was a seven percent decrease in overall crime last year. The report also described a number of strategies proposed by the mayor and police to decrease the amount of gun usage and youth crimes. The initiatives ranging from increasing the number of police officers by 80 to cracking down on truancy and expanding after school programs.

In an example of the mixed results shown by the report, the number of overall homicides and both gun-related murders and robberies rose, while the number of non-fatal shootings declined slightly.

“[The number of homicides is] a real cause for concern,” DeStefano’s spokesman Derek Slap said. “It is interesting that the number of people shot in the city actually decreased from 2005 to 2006. Most people when they hear that are kind of surprised, [since] homicides got so much attention.”

In the weeks since the report was released, DeStefano has visited several neighborhoods to discuss the statistics and plans for 2007 with community leaders, Slap said.

The NHPD was able to take more guns off the streets in 2006, Slap said, which he called both a good and bad sign: Though there might be more guns on the street, the NHPD is taking steps to reduce them. In late December, the NHPD held a two-week-long gun buy-back program to encourage residents to bring in guns. According to the report, the city also plans to focus more on gun prosecutions and to increase bonds for gun suspects.

But Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee said police have not done enough to catch high-volume gun suppliers, whom he called more important than the small-scale dealers police have arrested already. Lee also said he disagrees with the mayor’s plan to increase the number of police officers, which he said would be an excessive financial burden without achieving significant results.

“I haven’t heard about one bust catching the gun suppliers or big drug dealers [since they have been adding more officers], just corner dealers.” he said. “It’s not getting to the targets … I don’t think bringing in all these police will stop the killings.”

Both DeStefano and Ortiz have said the proposed increase in the number of officers would increase police visibility and bolster walking beats.

Meanwhile, the numbers of both youth offenders and youth victims increased in homicides and shootings by 29 percent and 27 percent, respectively. Concern about youth crime last fall prompted proposals to implement a city-wide curfew for those under 18 and to add new youth programs.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark, who chairs the Youth Services Committee, said she is puzzled by the increase in youth crime. She said recent forums held with students regarding the proposed youth curfew shed some light on the increased violence and the problem of turf rivalry, but many questions remain.

“I’m paying attention to the youth thing which seems to be [largely about] turf and people trespassing … things we would think of as petty, but people are dying,” she said. “These kids [at the forums] seem to indicate that it was a relatively little number of kids that were using guns and shooting each other and others.”

She said the middle school and high school students generally said a lack of after school programs and lack of support at home were important factors in youth violence. Slap said the city is focusing on a number of initiatives to address the issue of youth crime, particularly by targeting at-risk students. These initiatives include a partnership with the NAACP on an outreach program in the Dixwell neighborhood to enforce outstanding arrest warrants and to introduce more conflict resolution to the area.

Truancy is often a gateway to further crimes, Slap said, so the city is focused on cracking down on students who are absent from school.

“We really wanted to rededicate ourselves to trying to prevent truancy as well,” he said. “In the past if you were truant you’d get a letter home, a phone call, maybe a visit during the day, [but] now we’re having extended evening visits and having a truancy officer and a police officer go … We’re toughening up what we’re going to do.”

In addition, middle schools will be required to have after-school programs, so that 20 schools will be open until 7:00 p.m., Slap said. According to the report, the city also plans to expand job opportunities and job preparation for 5,000 teenagers.

In contrast to the increase in murders and youth crime, motor vehicle thefts and larceny decreased greatly, Slap said. This was due in large part to the ID-NET program initiated last year, he said. ID-NET used statistical analysis of crimes and a computer-assisted dispatch to determine the deployment of teams of officers in sweeps based on crime trends. ID-NET has since been phased out in favor of greater community policing.

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