City aids high-risk residents

A new public safety initiative will bring outreach workers to New Haven’s streets in an effort to aid at-risk children and young adults, New Haven Police Department officials announced Tuesday night at a Board of Aldermen Public Safety Committee meeting.

The Street Outreach Workers Program — one of the first of its kind nationwide — will match nine workers trained in conflict mediation and child development with youth in the community, said officer Shafiq Abdussabur, who coordinates the program. These workers will not be police officers, New Haven Police Department Supervisor of Planning and Research Petisia Adger said, and will not investigate crimes or probe their charges for information. Instead, they will serve as counselors for the city’s most troubled youngsters, guiding them through New Haven’s other social services and the educational system.

NHPD officer Shafiq Abdussabur is the coordinator of a new public safety initiative intended to provide aid to troubled youths through trained outreach workers.
Han Xu
NHPD officer Shafiq Abdussabur is the coordinator of a new public safety initiative intended to provide aid to troubled youths through trained outreach workers.

Abdussabur said it is critical to make sure that New Haven’s high-risk citizens can relate to the outreach workers and that the counselors have the tools to help their charges. Outreach workers may have criminal records or lack GEDs, but they will train extensively under NHPD guidance, he said.

“They will be able to reach out and talk to these people,” Abdussabur said. “And they will have the resources to act on this dialogue.”

According to the NHPD proposal, the program’s eight outreach workers will serve in teams of two, with a ninth worker serving as a supervisor and liaison between these workers and two police officers coordinating the program, Adger said. Ideally, these outreach officers will be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, she said.

Though the NHPD initiative is unique in that it builds on New Haven’s community-based policing program, Abdussabur said, the NHPD modeled the plan on existing programs in Boston and Providence, R.I. Providence, which started its program in 2003, expanded its staff to 13 outreach workers a year later, Adger said, and its homicide rate subsequently went down by half.

City officials and aldermen greeted the NHPD initiative with enthusiasm, though they peppered Adgers and Abdussabur with questions. Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark questioned whether the department would be able to find outreach workers reliable and capable enough to guide some of the city’s most troubled citizens. The positions would offer a salary of about $28,000 a year, Adgers said.

Others present at the meeting raised the issue of financing the program. The NHPD projects that the program will cost close to $400,000, with over half that amount going towards worker salaries and benefits. NHPD officials said they are looking for state and federal funding for the program, though they said some financial support will come from city sources.

As long as the city can secure funding for the initiative, Abdussabur said, the police department will be able to make the program work, especially in light of its previous success with community-based policing.

“There are people in New Haven who know a police officer better even than a member of their family,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re going to expect that officer to help you. This is the relationship our city has with its residents.”

New Haven first instituted its community policing program in 1990 under former Mayor John Daniels. Though such efforts declined recently under Mayor John DeStefano Jr., the mayor has made a renewed commitment to community policing, pushing for the passage of a bill that will expand New Haven’s police force by 20 percent, making it the largest in the state.

Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, who chaired the meeting, said he supports the police department’s creative approach to youth safety.

“I think it’s innovative, I think it’s new, and I think we ought to give it a try,” he said. “Let’s get it in motion, see how it works, and look at the demographics in a year or year and a half and see what progress it has made.”

New Haven crime statistics for 2006 released earlier this year showed a 29 percent jump in the numbers of both youth offenders and youth victims of homicides.

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