NHPD narcotics team to partner with state

City officials announced a plan on Tuesday to reorganize the beleaguered New Haven Police Department’s narcotics team by collaborating with state police.

Speaking at the Fair Haven police substation, Mayor John DeStefano and NHPD Chief Francisco Ortiz described a one-year partnership between the two agencies to stop what Oritz called “sophisticated” drug and gun trafficking in the city. Under the new plan, nine state police officers and nine NHPD officers will form a task force to more aggressively combat the drug and gun trade.

“They’ll be looking at sophisticated levels of drug trafficking, they’ll be helping with search warrants [and] making undercover buys,” he said.

The narcotics unit was dissolved by DeStefano and Ortiz after the arrest of Lt. Billy White, the head of the unit, and Detective Justen Kasperzyck, who were nabbed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on March 13 after a sting operation. At the press conference, Ortiz and DeStefano acknowledged that the plan had been crafted with an eye on the recent scandal, which has left community members angered and prompted investigations, overhauls and a string of public appearances by high-level city officials.

Ortiz said the new task force has been set up in part to assure New Haven residents that the city will continue to tackle narcotics despite disbanding the old unit. Aggressive narcotics enforcement is important because drugs are a chief cause of crime in the city, he said.

“Drugs drive crime in New Haven,” he said. “And guns are the tools of the trade. This is about … how we can stem that flow.”

Gun violence has been a particular concern for the city in the past year. On Monday, the NHPD released crime statistics for the first quarter of 2007 that showed a 12 percent jump in both non-lethal shootings and assault compared to the first quarter of 2006, with 43 shooting victims so far this year.

In order to prevent a repeat of the recent corruption scandal, Ortiz said, the new task force will have a more stringent system of checks and balances to ensure oversight of participating officers. But DeStefano said that oversight and accountability are issues that ultimately need to be resolved independently of the task force, the primary purpose of which is to tackle issues relating to drugs.

Ward 16 Alderwoman Migdalia Castro, who represents part of Fair Haven, said she is enthusiastic about the new task force and expects the community to react positively to the changes.

“This came at the right time because of what happened recently,” Castro said. “There’s going to be more response, more cops, more visibility.”

Ortiz said that the choice to conduct the press conference in Fair Haven — where the NHPD says it has had success in stemming crime — as opposed to a downtown location was meant to reflect police officials’ optimism about the task force.

The task force has only been given a one-year mandate, so its continuation depends on how well it does in the eyes of city officials. DeStefano said he will gauge the performance of the new collaboration simply: by looking at how much crime drops.

“It’s about whether or not guns are taken off the street,” he said.

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