City crime down 9 percent

Crime in New Haven is on the decline.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and New Haven Police Department officials released audited New Haven crime statistics for the first six months of 2011 and discussed new crime prevention policies at a meeting Thursday in Fair Haven. They announced that overall crime for the first half of 2011 was down by about 9 percent from the same time period in 2010, despite that fact that the number of homicides so far this year is higher than any year since 1994.

New Haven Police Chief Frank Limon said that the drop in crime was largely due to a decrease in the number of sexual assaults, burglaries and aggravated assaults. But with 26 homicides this year already, two more than in all of 2010, Limon said that the level of violent crime still remains “unacceptably high.”

“The number of homicides is what concerns people most,” DeStefano said. “We can’t have it be normal that the homicide rate is so high.”

DeStefano said that he estimates that around 70 percent of violent crime is the result of New Haven’s re-entry population, which Limon said typically has easy access to firearms and narcotics. The NHPD is working to address this issue by working with federal agencies to target street- and mid-level drug dealers and through a partnership with the Connecticut Department of Corrections, Limon said,

But when asked if citizens should feel unsafe, DeStefano responded that only those that engage in specific behaviors like narcotics dealing or gang activity are at high risk. Limon agreed, adding that only a small percentage of New Haven neighborhoods represent the majority of city violence.

To combat rising homicides, and to continue decreasing the overall crime level, DeStefano and police leadership also outlined two new initiatives designed to help the police department fight crime.

“The key idea of policing the community is that the police and the community know each other,” DeStefano said. “If there’s not a level of trust, then it’s not possible to police effectively.”

Assistant Police Chief Patrick Redding said that the new plan involves increasing the police department’s foot patrols, having officers patrol areas that district managers have selected as crime hot spots to increase police visibility in those areas.

The department also plans on training between 10 and 12 officers to be bike patrols, which Redding said will start in about eight weeks.

“The response we’ve had from the community has been nothing short of outstanding,” Redding said, adding that there will be at least one patrol per day in each district.

In addition to patrolling more often, the department also plans to use more foot power to build a stronger relationship with New Haven residents, Limon said.

Lee Cruz, a New Haven resident who works as the community outreach director for the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, said that there is evidence that a strong police-community relationship is the best way to reduce city crime.

“Police working with people in the community is what reduces violence,” Cruz said. “Crime is going to go down not only because police are there, but also because of the community presence.”

There is some empirical evidence that a relationship with Elm City residents helps the police, Limon said, explaining that citizen tips led to arrests for 17 of the year’s 26 homicides.

Lynn Smith, who works for START Community Bank, said she came to the meeting to show support for the department’s new plan.

“As a resident, I want to know who my local policeman is,” Smith said. “I think the police have taken the right steps to try and build a better relationship with the community, but the community has a responsibility to get involved too.”

The decrease in crime correlates with the Yale Police Department’s annual crime report released last week, which shows crime that on campus fell by 11 percent.

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