State task force ends term with NHPD

At 2 p.m. yesterday, two hours before the State Urban Violence and Cooperative Crime Control Task Force’s memorandum of understanding with the New Haven Police Department expired, it was time to say “thank you.”

At a press conference Thursday, Chief Francisco Ortiz and soon-to-be interim Chief Stephanie Redding bid farewell to a five-man state task force that has aided the NHPD with narcotics and weapons enforcement since last April. The task force is, at least in part, responsible for a 40-percent reduction in shootings thus far in 2008, Ortiz said.

NHPD sergeants Ken Blanchard, left, and Ken Kelly thank a state violence task force on Thursday.
Calgary Leveen
NHPD sergeants Ken Blanchard, left, and Ken Kelly thank a state violence task force on Thursday.

With a “thank you” plaque in hand, Ortiz thanked the outgoing state officers as NHPD Sgt. Ken Blanchard announced the department’s plans to begin another cooperative effort — this time, with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

In collaboration with four, or sometimes five, NHPD officers, the Urban Violence and Crime task force managed to seize 26 kilograms of marijuana, $300,000 worth of narcotics and 51 weapons, including 34 firearms, in their year of operation, Ortiz said. The collaborative unit, whose primary initiative was getting guns off the streets, made close to 400 arrests through the course of the year, he said.

Ortiz praised the unit for both helping solve quality-of-life issues and engaging with the community, especially in the wake of a 37-percent increase in shootings in 2007.

Connecticut State Police Sgt. Ken Kelly acted as a supervisor for the task force for the last year. He, too, celebrated its progress.

“It was a pleasure serving with the men and women of the New Haven Police Department,” Kelly said. “They’re hardworking police officers, and if we were asked to come back and do this again, we would. We made a real difference down here.”

The task force was called in last spring to help the NHPD after an FBI probe into the department revealed corruption in its narcotics-enforcement unit.

In its stead, the department plans to fill its Urban Area Violent Crime Task Force with five extra officers, who may start as early as next week, Redding said.

But in addition, Blanchard announced plans, effective tomorrow, for the NHPD to collaborate formally with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Ortiz said the ATF bureau offered a memorandum of understanding to formalize, and effectively ingrain, what was previously a casual relationship.

“We wanted to continue this work with handgun procedures,” Ortiz said, adding that there were nearly 25 federal prosecutions on gun charges in New Haven in 2007. There were just two federal prosecutions in 2006.

Unlike the Urban Violence and Crime Task Force, The State Narcotics Task Force will continue to police New Haven in the absence of the NHPD’s own narcotics-enforcement unit, which was disbanded last March after several officers in the unit were implicated in the FBI’s probe.

Redding was vague in addressing the NHPD’s progress in reinstating the unit.

“Not quite yet,” she said. “We’re going to look to that in the future. As we keep changing the administration, we’re going to look at it and look at policies and procedures.”

Eight days before his departure as New Haven’s top cop, Ortiz made a noticeable effort to project Redding — his replacement in the interim until a permanent chief is appointed by mayor — as the department’s next leader.

Throughout the press conference, Ortiz made several references to “the new administration.” At one point, in response to a question about the upcoming relationship between the ATF bureau and the NHPD, Ortiz alluded to his successor.

“The [memorandum of understanding] — actually, as the boss mentioned — it institutionalizes our relationship,” he said without hesitation.

Ortiz and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. will convene for another press conference today at 10:30 a.m. at NHPD headquarters. They will release a report on crime in New Haven for the first quarter of 2008.

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