Wooster Square under siege

Historic Wooster Square is considered by most to be one of the New Haven’s safest neighborhoods, but amidst a recent spike in crime in the neighborhood, resident Emily Ferrigno said she is moving out. And she is not alone.

“[The break-ins] make the police look helpless,” Ferrigno said. “It makes the people living here look helpless.”

Other Wooster residents have voiced concern in response to the crime spree: there have been 47 reported cases of car break-ins or car vandalism in the area in the past week alone, as of Monday evening. Wooster block watch Chairman Ben Yousey-Hindes said in an e-mail to the watch on Monday that Lieutenant Rebecca Sweeney, the New Haven Police Department’s district manager for downtown and Wooster Square, had assured him that police are aware of the problem.

Yousey-Hindes said police are using new tactics to reduce the crime and are investigating the newly reported incidents, which is not typically done for car break-ins.

“I know that this is not a priority because it’s not violent crime,” Ferrigno said. “They have bigger fish to fry. But it’s an image problem. It’s a morale problem.”

Though in the past, break-ins have not warranted much attention, authorities are now increasing foot, bike and squad car patrols and are looking for patterns in the crime data, Yousey-Hindes said.

Ferrigno, a library services assistant in the Sterling music library, said she even personally witnessed a break-in about six weeks ago on a Friday evening and she is now, because of the crime situation, is leaving the neighborhood and heading to East Rock.

But she might not have better luck there.

While East Rock is not experiencing as striking a crime spike as Wooster, car break-ins are on the rise there as well. The neighborhood has witnessed 11 break-in incidents in the last week, prompting police to send an e-mail alert to residents warning them to take precautions, the New Haven Register reported.

But the crime in Wooster, where many graduate students live, chases other residents even farther away. Amanda Sherman, a former resident of Wooster Square, said she moved to Morris Cove because of the area’s rising crime rates. She said her roommate’s car had been broken into about a year and a half ago and Sherman would witness eleven-year-old kids walking up and down the streets peering in the cars after school. Although Sherman said she does not like her new apartment as much, she added her safety and sanity are more important to her.

“The crime was just crazy,” she said. “I had to get out.”

Jane Scarpellino, who has lived in Wooster Square for 65 years, said she always considered the neighborhood to be safe. But lately, she said, the number of break-ins is troubling.

“Many [people] may consider not moving here when the neighborhood gets a bad reputation,” she said.

Scarpellino, who has worked in real-estate and mortgages, said property owners could help catch criminals and avoid crimes by posting private property signs to stop people walking or biking through.

Sweeney told the Register that the downtown area and Wooster Square normally witness an average of 14 vehicle break-ins a month, nothing comparable to the scope of the break-ins during the past week.

“We haven’t really seen an uptick downtown,” said Rena Masten Leddy, executive director of town green special services.

Jennifer Kelly, one of the family owners of Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana, said most of the break-ins occur in the early morning hours when police patrol is at a low.

“It’s unfortunate that today the economy is so bad and people are so desperate,” she said.

But Scarpellino said that while most break-ins occur late at night, she has heard cases of car vandalism as early as 1pm.

While the siege of break-ins last week came on an unprecedented scope, Wooster has experienced waves of break-ins in the past. Last January and February, the area saw an increase which peaked at four break-ins in a single night. Karri Brady of the block watch said at the time that the “smash and grab” break-ins were targeting GPS units, easily stolen and sold for cash.

The Block Watch encourages residents to remove any valuables from their cars and to park in well-lit areas.

The police received reports 25 incidents of car break-ins or vandalism in Wooster square last weekend.


  • cappi

    Isn’t about time that officials in New Haven address the underlying problems of the city rather than just reacting to the symptoms? Meaningful education and then employment, let’s start with those, please.

  • Sara

    A couple kids breaking car windows is hardly a neighborhood “under siege”.


    In terms of violent crimes, many parts of Wooster Square, like many other neighborhoods in New Haven, are actually safer than the state average.

    Residents of the area (unless they are involved in the drug trade) are many times more likely to be killed in car crashes, a proportion which generally goes up as you move farther into the suburbs, due to longer distances and higher speeds traveled. If you want to die, move to Cheshire.

    I think most residents get this, and it is part of the reason why housing in the city (as a whole) has become more valuable than housing in many of New Haven’s suburbs.

    Crime can and should be addressed through better employment, community policing, lighting, more walkable streets and mixed-use retail, etc., but let’s not blow it out of proportion.

  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    Part I

    “47 reported cases of car break-ins or car vandalism in the area in the past week alone” (and *25* over the weekend!) does not equate emotionally to “a couple of kids,” especially in a neighborhood like Wooster Square. (BTW: don’t forget last April’s shooting there…).

    Sara states that “Wooster Square… [is] actually safer than the [CT] state average.” First, I rather doubt that statement: even [**Fair Haven]**[1], [**East Haven**][2], [**West Haven**][3], and [**Westville**][4] fare worse than CT average! But even were her statement true (and I welcome links to *actual stats*), one still must regularly pass through some of the, uh, “higher than average” crime areas if one wants to function in New Haven (like, oh, visiting city hall or the courthouse, shopping, visiting a nightclub, eating at Claire’s, walking on the Green, silly things like that…).

    To obscure this laughable comparison, Sara then moves further afield, stating that “Residents of the area ([**unless they are involved in the drug trade]**[5]) are [safer in New Haven than were they to] move to Cheshire.” Sara seems to believe that risk of death from commuting is higher than risk of death by crime. Let’s find out! This will require some inference and assumption, but we’ll get the gist.

    I am now going to search for “risk of death by commuting in Connecticut” (assuming that we will approach some mid-point between city dwellers and commuters). Please hold… [While you are waiting, feel free to peruse the city links above to compare local crime stats with that foreboding bastion of death, Cheshire…]

    Okay, first hit: [CT’s 15 top leading causes of death][6]… Looking at the typical commuter age groups (25-34 and 35-44) I find NO instance of “traffic death”; however (and surprisingly) HOMICIDE ranks #5 and #9 by age group, respectively. Hmmm… Where’s TRAFFIC FATALITIES???

    [1]: http://www.homefair.com/real-estate/compare-cities/details.asp?format=popup&Zip1=06513&Zip2=06410&SectionID=6&SectionName=Personal+Crime+Risk#Personal_Crime_Risk
    [2]: http://www.homefair.com/real-estate/compare-cities/details.asp?format=popup&Zip1=06512&Zip2=06410&SectionID=6&SectionName=Personal+Crime+Risk#Personal_Crime_Risk
    [3]: http://www.homefair.com/real-estate/compare-cities/details.asp?format=popup&Zip1=06516&Zip2=06410&SectionID=6&SectionName=Personal+Crime+Risk#Personal_Crime_Risk
    [4]: httphttp://www.homefair.com/real-estate/compare-cities/details.asp?format=popup&Zip1=06515&Zip2=06410&SectionID=6&SectionName=Personal+Crime+Risk#Personal_Crime_Risk
    [5]: http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2010/nov/18/drug-bust-arrests-21/
    [6]: http://www.ct.gov/dmhas/lib/dmhas/prevention/cyspi/ctcausesofdeath.pdf

  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    Part II

    Let’s switch the search to “risk of death by traffic accident in Connecticut.” We quickly find that “[As reported by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety][7], in 2005 the States with the highest number of motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 people were Wyoming (33.4), Mississippi (31.9), Montana (26.8) and South Carolina (25.7), whereas the States with the lowest were Massachusetts (6.9), New York (7.4), **Connecticut (7.8)** and Rhode Island (8.1).” Okay, so now we have a reference stat. **7.8/100,000** (and please note that this includes ALL traffic fatalities, not just commuting-related).

    For ease, let us assume only death by murder and that New Haven has 100,000 residents.
    So… CT traffic fatality rate = 7.8/100,000; New Haven murder rate? [**24, 13, 23, 12**][8] per 100,000 in 2006, ’07, ’08, and ’09, respectively. Huh. Go figure… I call “*pants on fire,*” Sara.

    I do, though, agree with Sara (whom I still believe is associated with Yale’s OPA) that jobs, community policing, and mixed-use can lower crime. Of course, job creation (i.e., real jobs, those that create rather than consume value, think private versus public sector…) and “tough on crime” stances are usually associated more with the politically conservative crowd than with the touchy-feelies.

    “Coupla kids doin’ crimes” my arse… Perception is reality; THIS is reality:

    “The crime was just crazy,” said [Amanda Sherman, who lately moved from Wooster Square to Morris Cove] “*I had to get out*,” adding that her “safety and sanity are more important” to her.

    [6]: http://www.ct.gov/dmhas/lib/dmhas/prevention/cyspi/ctcausesofdeath.pdf
    [7]: http://www.benbest.com/lifeext/causes.html
    [8]: http://www.cityofnewhaven.com/Police/Statistics.asp

  • Sara

    Did you actually read that chart, Hieronymus?

    “Unintentional Injury” is the leading cause of death across many of those age groups — many, many times higher than homicide, in fact. What do you think is the main cause of “unintentional injury”?

    Like this, your other interpretations are simply incorrect.

  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    Hmm… good one. Let’s investigate! “Unintentional injury categories include drowning, falls, fires/ burns, poisonings, unintentional suffocation, and motor vehicle related injuries and deaths.”

    Break ’em out for me Sara; ah, never mind, I’ll do it myself.

    “More than one-fourth (26.7%) of unintentional injury deaths were due to
    motor vehicle crashes, which is the leading cause of unintentional injury
    deaths, followed by poisoning (23.8%), falls (16.0%) and suffocation

    Wow. Higher than I would have expected, but I think we need to break it down further (separating out “injury” from “death”).

    “There were 5,687 unintentional injury deaths registered in Connecticut
    between 2000 – 2004, averaging 1,137 deaths per year” (ignore for now the mismatch in years; I can get the murder rates for that period later).

    OoooKAY then! 26.7% of 1,137 is 303 for ALL of CT. Out of CT’s 3.5MM population that equates to, roughly, 8.7/100,000 (remember, though, not all of THOSE deaths will be during the commute, but we’ll ignore that for the moment).

    How does this compare with New Haven’s murder rate over the last few years?

    > New Haven murder rate? 24, 13, 23, 12
    > per 100,000 in 2006, ’07, ’08, and
    > ’09, respectively.

    So, none too favorably. While I will grant you that the death rate is higher than I would have expected, it does not support your statement that a Cheshire resident faces higher probability of traffic fatality while commuting than does a Wooster Square resident from death by crime.

    But I am happy to review the stats YOU are using!

  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    The calculated 8.7/100k rate is higher than the official rate. Your calcs are welcome, Sara.

    Oh, and the citation earlier:

    > [unless they are involved in the drug
    > trade][5]

    was meant to link to the [**YDN drug bust article**][1].

    Also: the average murder rate for the 2001-2004 period was 12/100,000, which compares unfavorably with the 8.7/100,000 statewide traffic fatality rate Also: I would bet that a number of those fatalities occurred in non-commuting, urban settings–e.g., New Haven–but, again, I welcome YOUR stats.

    A bit more in that vein:2008 Connecticut traffic fatalities: 264

    [Percent involving alcohol: 40%][2]

    Let us assume then that at least 20% of the 264 were NOT commuter related (that is, half of 40%: my assumption is that at least the MORNING commuters weren’t already hittin’ the sauce…). That drops the traffic fatality rate POSSIBLY attributable to commuting down to 6.0/100,000 (and likely less, given that it is likely that at least SOME percentage of evening commuters were sober). I can look for death by days if you would like (making the assumption that SOME of the Sat/Sun deaths were not commuter-driven, as it were…).

    Oh, wow: in 2007, the [number of people killed which driving or riding in motorcycle is 41 (][3]how many of THOSE were commuters, one wonders…), further reducing the number available.

    [1]: http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2010/nov/18/drug-bust-arrests-21/
    [2]: http://www.alcoholalert.com/drunk-driving-statistics.html
    [3]: http://www.movetransport.com/traffic_fatality.php?s3=Connecticut

  • Sara

    You are making far too many faulty assumptions to point out all of them.

    For example, homicide rates are far different from homicide-by-stranger rates. Almost all homicides are committed by family members, other relatives, friends, acquaintances, and coworkers (e.g., Annie Le).

    Crime rates also vary tremendously by neighborhood within a city — 90% of murders, shootings and assaults typically occur within fewer than 20% of the city’s block groups, primarily due to the social network issue I identified above. Homicides in “Wooster Square” all occurred at Farnam Courts on the other side of I-91, an area known for drug trades that is not within the historic section of the neighborhood or pizza parlors that are located many blocks away.

    Furthermore, homicide is concentrated within certain age groups. Look at the ratio of unintentional injury to homicide for children under 15 – it is about 20 to 1. For adults over 35, the ratio is similar: The DMHAS site lists 350 “unintentional injury” deaths in the 35-55 group (and very few of those were “falls” – those primarily impact very old people), versus 18 homicides. Homicide victims are almost exclusively concentrated among young men within the 15 to 35 age group, both in New Haven as well as statewide.

    Meanwhile, traffic fatalities are three times more numerous than homicides. The simple fact is, for a New Haven resident whose friends are not involved in illegal activities, the actual risk of mortality from homicide due to walking out of one’s home each day is next to zero, whereas the risk of mortality due to traffic crashes is significant. And the latter is much higher for people with long commutes (typically suburban workers, though some in the city have long drives too).

    Even looking at injuries, there are well over 3 million traffic injuries each year in the US, stemming from 2 million injury-related crashes. This compares with <1M aggravated assaults per year, a more than 3-to-1 ratio even before you consider the fact that aggravated assault injuries, unlike reported traffic injuries, are typically not very severe. And, as with homicide homicide, victims of aggravated assaults are typically attacked by a close relative.

    Step away from the data and ask your friends how many they personally know who have been killed in car crashes — most people could name at least a half dozen or more, including several New Haven police officers just in the past couple years, and many more who were driving in suburban areas. I don’t personally know any victims of poisonings, falls, or homicides.

    Bottom line, suburban drivers are quite often just randomly killed, paralyzed, or permanently injured by someone they don’t know, whereas the vast majority of New Haveners have little to fear unless they are also constantly driving on roads like I-95 or Route 10. Just one of many reasons why so many people choose to live within the city and why housing prices are higher than many suburbs.

  • townieexprof

    While the above flame war happened, probably two more cars were broken into, several more people decided to leave, and then the press coverage means the next vacancies in the area will not fill.

    THe more crime, the more people leave.
    More vacancies=less income for landlords
    over time property values fall=less tax base,
    less foot traffic=less safety
    less safety then saturday morning vegetable market leaves

    And BTW, just the perception of crime leads to people feeling.
    Its not the crime stats per se, but the vibe.
    THe vibe in New Haven just now is plummeting fast.

    Which discourages faculty from taking jobs here…which hurts the college status which decreases admissions and students accepting etc etc etc

  • pablum

    >Bottom line, suburban drivers are quite often just randomly killed, paralyzed, or permanently injured by someone they don’t know, whereas the vast majority of New Haveners have little to fear unless they are also constantly driving on roads like I-95 or Route 10. Just one of many reasons why so many people choose to live within the city and why housing prices are higher than many suburbs.

    People choose to live in the city because of Yale, and the housing prices are high because of Yale.

  • prion

    “property owners could help catch criminals and avoid crimes by posting private property signs to stop people walking or biking through”

    They should post signs saying “Wooster Square Low-Crime Neighborhood. Criminal activity forbidden.” That would totally solve the problem.