City sees Jan. drop in crime

Crime decreased in January as the city unveiled a series of new iniatives meant to address youth crime, which was a major problem for the city in 2006.

Overall crime for this January is lower than January of last year, though the results of major new anti-crime initiatives have not been in effect long enough to yield results. And while officials said they are optimistic that the initiatives will ultimately be successful, there have been some unexpected obstacles, particularly in police recruiting.

According to the New Haven Police Department’s projected crime statistics for January 2007, overall crime was down by six percent compared to last January’s numbers. But while murders, robberies and larcenies decreased, other crime, such as aggravated assault and burglaries, rose. Though this decrease in crime — particularly in murders, which increased for the year 2006 compared to 2005 — may be a promising start for this year, officials emphasized that crime statistics for so short a period of time are not necessarily accurate projections for crime rates over the year as a whole. Other, uncontrollable elements may also play a role in minor deviations, officials said.

“Overall crime is down this year but we don’t like to judge our progress over so short a period,” Mayoral Deputy Chief of Staff Robert Smuts ’01 said. “I think actual crime trends, particularly during the winter, are greatly affected by weather.”

The major crime issue this year remains youth violence. Following a marked increase in youth crime during 2006, youth have been involved in several shootings over the past few weeks — including two days when four teenagers were shot in three separate incidents — though there have been no recent fatalities. Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark, chair of the Youth Services Committee, said she is optimistic about the progress the city has been making in acting on its initiatives and the exploration of other possible programs will continue.

But Clark said she is concerned about communication problems between existing youth programs and the posssibility that many youth are not aware of the offerings. She said the city plans to create a detailed database of youth programs to determine which programs should be prioritized and how to better publicize them.

“We already know what the programs are, but we need to know where exactly they are located and what their capacities are and are they at capacity,” Clark said. “We have none of that in depth.”

Still, Clark said, any plans to expand old programs or start new programs would require additional city funding.

The city has had some early successes in its initiatives. This month, the Board of Aldermen approved plans proposed in November to begin increasing the police force by 80 to 90 officers over the next two years. Changes to the truancy program, announced last week, will increase officer visits to homes of truant students in order to try to curb the problem and keep youth in school, NHPD spokeswoman Bonnie Winchester said.

But the NHPD has faced at least one challenge in its expansion efforts, as the recent recruitment drive fell short of its goals, placing only 32 recruits in the police academy rather than the 45 originally hoped for, Winchester said.

She said the decrease in applicants and hires is part of nationwide trend and can also be attributed to the higher-than-expected number of students who dropped out of the program.

“There was attrition during the post-offer process,” she said. “Some candidates were eliminated and others withdrew to accept other positions.”

Despite the setback, Winchester said, the NHPD is confident it will be able to meet its goal of adding 80 to 90 officers of the next two years. She said the department will continue evaluating remaining candidates on its list, potentially allowing them to enter the state academy in May.

The expansion of the NHPD is a significant aspect of the city’s renewed emphasis on community-based policing.

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