New chief, familiar tactics

Two days into his job, newly appointed New Haven Police Chief Frank Limon has presented two initiatives to curb violence in the city. He is confident they will work, though they resemble efforts that the city has already considered.

Since Monday, when he arrived in the city and was sworn in as its top cop, Limon has undergone a crash course on New Haven’s seemingly paradoxical crime situation — simultaneously the lowest citywide crime rates on record and a recent uptick of gun violence that, if continued, would make this year’s murder rate the highest ever. In an interview Wednesday at NHPD headquarters, Limon said this weekend he will launch his first strategic undertaking, “Operation Corridor,” which will flood a long strip through the heart of the city with police officers to target drug and gang “hot spots” and the violence generated there.

New Haven Police Chief Frank Limon
Zoe Gorman
New Haven Police Chief Frank Limon

His plan closely echoes the targeted policing started under former NHPD Chief James Lewis, who also flooded high-crime areas with additional officers to shut down criminal activity. That effort was frequently used as a response to shootings, leading to low citywide crime rates, Lewis said. But the initiative did not prevent the spate of recent murders: Since October 2009, 13 men have been shot to death in New Haven, and police have not solved any of the murders. Many of the victims were black ex-cons who were shot execution style in the head.

Limon said he also plans to propose adding cameras to public spaces across the city, a move several aldermen, including Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark, opposed two years ago when it was tried on a much smaller scale. Limon said he has not finalized the locations where he would want to install cameras. In an interview Wednesday, Clark said that although the cameras may serve as a crime deterrent, she would need to know more specifics before deciding whether to support such a program.

Limon has long championed the use of technology in policing, and when he was a deputy police superintendent in Chicago, he oversaw an effort to install more than 600 video cameras in public places there. Limon completed a similar project as the police chief of River Forest, Ill., a town of 11,500 near Chicago, where he managed to reduce crime and costs at the same time.

Limon said Wednesday that the obstacles he faces in New Haven are part of the reason he took the job.

“I viewed it as a good challenge for me,” he said Wednesday. “I believe I have all the experience needed.”

But at his swearing-in ceremony at City Hall on Monday, the police chief had few concrete answers when asked by reporters what he would do concerning the previous weekend’s two murders. The only remedy he offered at the time was to hold a staff meeting.

At that staff meeting, held later that day, he met with district managers and other officers for two hours. Based on the discussions at the meeting, Limon said, he decided to create “Operation Corridor.”

Starting Friday, Limon said, police will head to the “corridor” of crime that runs down from Newhallville through Dwight, just west of Pierson College, down to the Hill neighborhood. He added that the police will stay there, arresting drug users and buyers and seizing cars present at drug deals, until crime drops.

Limon said he will also focus on community involvement, has already visited the Fair Haven neighborhood and plans to meet with community groups throughout the city in the coming weeks.

“The police can’t do it alone,” he said.

When Limon came to River Forest, the department was in crisis, Stephen Hoke, a River Forest trustee and the chairman of the River Forest police committee, said last month. But Limon turned it around by shifting officers behind desks out into the streets. Limon’s experience has been in fighting drug gangs in Chicago and reorganizing the River Forest police department.

Limon has said he is not sure how many assistant chiefs he wants under him. (Stephanie Redding, who served as acting chief before Limon came to New Haven, has resumed her former position as assistant chief of administration.)

But he has already made one important decision: He has decided he prefers New Haven’s famous Pepe’s pizza over Chicago’s signature deep-dish.

“Deep-dish,” he began, “it’s like you’re eating pie.”

Limon’s term will run through Feb. 1, 2014.

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