New Haven Police Chief Frank Limon has an ambitious goal: to make New Haven the safest city in America.
At the Board of Police Commissioners meeting Tuesday evening — Limon’s first since becoming chief two weeks ago — he laid out his broad goals for the department. Though he said he is still figuring out specific plans to reduce the recent spate of gun violence, he presented a one-page summary of six goals for the NHPD, which include reducing gun violence, working more closely with the community and other law enforcement agencies, and using more technology.
The goals target problems that persist within small pockets of New Haven’s communities such as relaxed attitudes toward gun use and an unwillingness to cooperate with the police — problems about which community leaders spoke Thursday at a meeting with Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Limon, held in the wake of a violent three weeks that brought the city’s murder count for the year to 11, compared to 13 in the entirety of 2009. All of this year’s victims were black men, many of them ex-felons in their late 20s or older.
And while Tuesday’s meeting was in progress, a 19 year-old male was shot twice in the abdomen on Dixwell Avenue in Newhallville.
“It’s been,” Limon said with a pause, “an experience.”
Police have yet to solve any of this year’s murders, but Limon said the NHPD has responded well to the violence and has seized at least 10 guns in the last few weeks. Since he arrived in New Haven in early April, Limon has attended five community meetings and visited areas of drug activity near Whalley Avenue and the sites of recent fatal shootings in Newhallville and Dixwell.
He said Tuesday that stopping the violence depends on community involvement. Limon said he would not only enlist other city, state and local policing agencies to help stop the violence in New Haven but also ask for help from city schools, businesses and community organizations. In times of economic hardship such as these, Limon added, police departments must “do more with less” and therefore need all the help they can get.
DeStefano has promised to hire 34 new police officers and increase funding for public safety in the coming year by 2.3 percent. Despite some residents’ outcries about the property tax increases that will pay for the budget increases, DeStefano has refused to cut police expenditures.
Still, Limon said his plans are not yet specific enough and that details on actual operations will be forthcoming, adding that he is still learning about the department and the city.
“The events of the last few weeks have accelerated my need to move into a more tactical position,” he said.
During his first week in the job early this month, Limon launched “Operation Corridor,” an initiative to flood high-crime areas with additional “high-visibility” officers and has had mixed results, he said. In the initiative’s debut weekend, three people were murdered.
What is preventing police bringing the perpetrators of the recent murders to justice, Limon said, is residents’ reluctance to speak to the police, much less give an official statement or testify in court.
Where administrative matters are concerned, Limon remains short-staffed, aided by only one assistant chief; his predecessor, James Lewis, had four. Limon said he hopes to hire three more assistant chiefs.
Assistant Chief Stephanie Redding said the NHPD has been accepting online applications for the posts since Feb. 27 and has received many applicants. Limon said he met with City Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts ’01 on Monday to discuss the application process, but that actual hiring is still weeks away.
Police commissioners said the new chief had an unusually full plate to deal with upon his arrival and that they remain confident in his leadership abilities.
“I know you didn’t expect such a quiet town,” Board Chairman Richard Epstein joked to Limon. “But we’re all excited you’re here and we know you’re up to the challenge.”
Limon has a contract with the city until at least 2014.