New Haven’s murder count for 2010 peaked at 24, an 85 percent increase from 2009. The increase comes on the heels of a city-wide announcement at the beginning of the year that budget cuts will affect all municipal services — including the NHPD.
Though homicides spiked in the past year, as Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Police Department Chief Frank Limon announced on Wednesday at a press conference at the NHPD headquarters, the increase coincides with an overall decrease in major crimes, including shootings. The city’s overall crime rate fell 1 percent in 2010, and Limon said the data presents a unique picture of the NHPD’s successes and failures.
In order to extend this decrease in crime through the following year, the department is seeking to build its relationship with the community, Limon said. But he added that the NHPD still has more to do in that regard.
“It’s important to develop partnerships with the citizens of New Haven,” he said. “They are the best method for determining how we can better serve the community and meet the needs of the city.”
NHPD joint programs through schools and churches are currently aimed at educating the city’s youth, and helping to turn them away from a culture of violence, and they will be expanded in the coming year, Limon said. Still, 23 percent of shooting victims were under the age of 18 in 2010. The number was a decrease from the 26 percent in 2009, but Limon said the figure was still too high.
An increase in community programs will not be readily available in a city with a projected $52 million budget deficit, DeStefano said.
“[This coming year] is going to be a resource-poor environment for us,” he said. The state of Connecticut, New Haven’s largest source of revenue, has a nearly $4 billion budget deficit, he added, and this will force the city to cut some police services. DeStefano also offered a preview of the February valuation of city pension plans. The police and fire fund will run out of money in 15 years, and the city employee’s fund will run out in 16, he said.
Despite impending pension troubles, Assistant Chief of Operations Ariel Melendez, who announced his retirement earlier this month, will receive a pay increase when he leaves the force. He will leave the NHPD with a $124,500 annual pension, according to the New Haven Independent, a pension that exceeds his current salary of $105,000.
Although pension cuts are on the horizon, a nearly doubled murder rate is a more immediate issue for the NHPD.
The large increase in murders in the 2010 calendar year is largely because of a spike in fatal shootings at the beginning of the year. Eleven homicides, representing 46 percent of the 2010 total, occurred within the first four months of the year. Limon, who took over for current Yale Police Department head James Lewis, began his tenure in April.
“You can’t predict murders,” Limon said. “The only thing you can predict is your strategy and your abilities to employ your resources, and if you employ them in the right way … they work.”
During the press conference, DeStefano noted that there has been a pattern of oscillation in the city’s murder rate since 2005. The mayor did not offer any explanation for this pattern, but said that the 2010 increase is not unique.
Limon said that this fluctuation needs to be addressed with a long-term solution. Although he said he was not able to give any insight into the trends since he only began working in New Haven in April, he added that the best course of action would be to re-evaluate and potentially alter the current community, local and federal programs that the NHPD already operates.
“What was working before was never sustained through the following years,” he said. He added that the most effective way to reduce crime is to control exterior factors, and that this goal is only possible with community cooperation.
According to the 2010 data, one community is suffering the effects of violent crimes vastly more than others. Twenty-two of the 24 murder victims were African-American males, one was an African-American female, and the other was a Hispanic male. In 2009, every homicide victim was African-American. Despite this pattern, one community leader in the neighborhoods hit hardest by the violence did not fault the NHPD.
“They’re doing what they can,” said Bishop Theodore Brooks, pastor of Beulah Heights Frist Pentecostal Church in the Dixwell neighborhood, of the police. “Limon is honing a pathway to try and create a good relationship between the police and the community, and he’s been working very hard at that since he [came to New Haven.]”
Along with the altered tactics, the NHPD has also affected street crime by increasing its clearance rate into homicide investigations, DeStefano said. Between May 2009 and May 2010, the investigations department only cleared 10 percent — two of 20 — of its murder investigations. Since May 2010, the clearance rate has gone up to 55 percent. DeStefano said the increase represents a “pattern of professional development.”
The overall number of shootings has consistently gone down since 2007. 2009 only saw 149 victims, while 124 individuals were shot in 2010.