For only the second time in 20 years, New Haven had a murder-free summer.
The five-month homicide-free streak exemplifies an overall decrease in crime so far in 2008, according to annual statistics released Friday by the New Haven Police Department, which city officials attributed to the NHPD’s more proactive police operations. The decrease follows a steady trend of decreasing crime in the city over the last 15 years.
“What’s not happening is as much crime,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said at a press conference at NHPD headquarters Friday. “What is happening is more enforcement.”
Total violent and nonviolent crime in the city for the first six months of the year was down 10 percent over the first six months of 2008. Eight of the last 10 months saw double-digit drops in crime, translating into 469 fewer victims of crimes in the first six months of 2009.
Burglaries and motor-vehicle thefts saw a 22 percent and 32 percent decrease, respectively. There was a small decrease in the number of rapes and larcenies, while the number of robberies and assaults both increased by about 5 percent.
The declines have occurred amid NHPD budget cuts: Police cut overtime costs by $1.5 million so far this year. Additional oversight for special projects contributed to a more efficient use of overtime dollars, NHPD Chief James Lewis said at the press conference.
The largest decrease is homicides, down 60 percent year-to-date. The statistic is unique to New Haven, as homicide rates in Connecticut’s two largest cities, Hartford and Bridgeport, have remained steady this year.
Lewis credited much of the decrease to the department’s new strategy announced in February, targeted activity policing, which focuses on five areas: gun enforcement, narcotics enforcement, traffic enforcement, quality of life issues and youth programming.
Traffic enforcement is up 77 percent year-to-date and 199 percent in the last month. The new narcotics unit, reestablished in February, has conducted 310 investigations and made 193 arrests, seizing nearly $1 million in drugs and cash. New crime suppression details, patrols that focus solely on special assignments and do not respond to 911 calls, have made 173 arrests and issued 1,730 citations.
Lewis said these new practices help remove criminals from the streets and make people more afraid to carry a gun illegally, thereby making the city safer. Increasing the likelihood that a criminal might be stopped on the street, he said, has effectively deterred crime.
But while the number of homicides in the city has dropped significantly, the number of shootings themselves have not.
“We still have too many shootings in this community,” Lewis said, referencing the 110 shootings that have occurred so far this year. The number is on par with that of 2008, which saw 155 shootings over 12 months.
In January, while explaining the 70 percent increase in homicides in 2008 over 2007, Lewis said the number of shootings are a more important number to look at than the number of homicides because “bad luck” is often the difference between a non-fatal shooting and a homicide.
But Lewis noted that this year almost 60 percent of the shootings have been leg shots — an unusually high number — which might signify that more of these shootings are accidental and not meant to kill.
“We had one genius who takes a revolver, cocks it, then puts it in his pocket and shoots himself,” he noted.
Like New Haven, Hartford experienced a 9 percent decrease in crime through August, but Hartford also had a 25 percent decrease in shooting victims.
Lewis also provided an update on the department’s progress with recommendations from the Police Executive Research Forum report, an audit of the NHPD conducted in the fall of 2007.
Ninety-three percent of the report’s recommendations have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented, Lewis said. The 7 percent that have not been implemented require negotiations with the police union, which are currently ongoing.