NHPD chief talks crime on Prospect Hill

Incidents of violent and property crimes are down 12 percent in all of New Haven’s neighborhoods, New Haven Police Chief James Lewis told a meeting of concerned city residents on Thursday evening at the Celentano Museum Academy on Prospect Hill.

While Lewis’ statistics indicated a reduction in the frequency of violent and property crime, five of the 24 residents present at the meeting said the New Haven Police Department should have more officers patrolling the streets on foot and on bicycles to strengthen their presence in the city’s communities.

Despite the improved statistics, three residents at the meeting pressed Lewis on how the department intends to deal with New Haven youth and what Lewis himself called a “disturbing” increase in the number of New Haven youth possessing firearms.

Ward 10 Alderman Allan Brison said that a lack of police officers “walking the beat or on bikes has ushered in a new mistrust of the police among New Haven youth which did not exist 10 years ago.”

Lewis acknowledged that steps need to be taken to prevent New Haven youth from developing an interest in crime; just this weekend, he said, three minors were arrested on separate occasions in possession of handguns. When asked what a community can do about that situation, he responded: “There’s only so much aggressive policing can do — you should attack keeping them in school.”

He explained that the NHPD is currently funding youth programs with money they are legally allowed to keep from drug arrests and seizures. Such efforts include keeping the YMCA open longer, donating to local boys and girls clubs, and taking certain youths under officers’ wings in hope that they will want to become policemen and women.

Ward 19 Alderwoman Alfreda Edwards, who organized the community meeting to discuss policing in New Haven’s Newhallville and East Rock neighborhoods, said that though the number of murders may be down, the real issue to be addressed is “where these guns are coming from.”

But reconciling the need to reduce weapon possession and to increase police officers’ presence in neighborhoods is a tricky proposition, Lewis said, since “beat cops are an expensive item that can’t seize the guns like traffic cops.”

Lewis stressed that he expects the NHPD will “easily” achieve its goal of reducing by 1,000 the city’s number of violent and property crime victims.

With regard to how Yale graduate students were effected by these crime trends, Lewis said in an interview after the meeting that for the most part, they tend to be victims only of petty crimes, not the sort primarily discussed at the meeting.

“Burglaries and automobile theft are always a problem in the beginning of the school year,” Lewis said. “But other than that, [graduate students] are treated equally as all the other residents in the area by police.”

Lewis’ contract as Chief of Police is scheduled to expire at the end of January.

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