Thirty Guardian Angels from New York and other nearby cities descended on the Elm City Sunday in response to the firing of 16 New Haven Police Department officers last Thursday.
The group of Angels, a volunteer organization that forms unarmed crime patrols, augmented the New Haven chapter’s ranks on Sunday and Monday, said New Haven chapter leader Rocky Pratt. Led by its founder Curtis Sliwa on Sunday and by Pratt on Monday, the Angels are using the layoffs — and ensuing police union statements that citizens now need to arm themselves — to promote their own brand of nonviolent crime fighting.
“We don’t want people to arm themselves,” Pratt said. “We want to find a nonviolent resolution.”
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Although both NHPD Chief Frank Limon and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. have argued that New Haven will not become more dangerous as a result of fewer cops on the streets, Pratt said the city may now be less safe. Last week’s layoffs, he said, will remove at least five officers from each of the NHPD’s three daily shifts, which could constitute the backup for any given call.
“Their [policing] jobs are going to be really hard,” he said. “It’s really difficult for a police officer to do his job without backup.”
The Angels also expanded their patrols into the Yale campus and downtown area and are reporting success in the wake of last week’s police drama, which included nearly 250 NHPD officers taking to the streets to protest the departmental downsizing last Wednesday night.
“The whole neighborhood is coming together,” Pratt said. “We’re trying to teach people that they don’t have to rely on the police.”
Pratt said he received some high-fives and many questions from downtown pedestrians during his Monday night shift. After patrolling the campus, he applauded Yale for creating a relatively safe environment for its student body. He pointed to the Blue Phone system and building-mounted cameras as effective techniques to increase student safety.
But the presence of Yale Security and the Yale Police Department does not mean that the Guardian Angels are done with the campus. Pratt said he will lead a group of Angels in handing out fliers on how to avoid Newhallville’s serial rapist next Tuesday. On Feb. 10, the NHPD announced that one assailant had been linked by DNA-evidence to five sexual assaults between December 2007 and January 2011.
After Thursday’s protest, police union President Sgt. Lou Cavaliere told members of the media that New Haven will now be a more dangerous place with 16 fewer officers. New Haven residents, he said, should now consider arming themselves for safety.
Pratt called the call to arms “the worst thing to tell people.”
In addition to the 16 layoffs, Cavaliere told the News on Thursday that he anticipates up to 50 retirements in the next year. Both union sources and DeStefano have admitted that more layoffs may be on the way if another solution to the city’s growing budget gap cannot be found.
Adding to the NHPD’s depleted staffing levels, some officers may also be skipping work in protest of the layoffs, City Hall spokesman Adam Joseph said in a Friday press release. NHPD spokesman Joseph Avery said Monday that the department is investigating these allegations, but he added that he did not know who would be conducting the investigation.
In response to the multiple factors threatening to decrease the NHPD’s workforce even more, Pratt said he has given his Angels the directive to assist NHPD officers with any police action they observe.
“We’re well-trained, so I’m sure any [NHPD officer] would appreciate our help,” he said.
After the layoffs, the NHPD now has 434 sworn officers.