Kashon Douglas’ murder in East Rock on Friday brought the city’s murder count to 29, making this the deadliest year New Haven has seen since 1994.
Much of New Haven’s crime is associated with illegal drug dealing and people making “negative life choices,” City Hall spokesman Adam Joseph said Monday afternoon. City officials cited persistently high unemployment and the number of citizens re-entering the community after incarceration as other factors impacting the city’s rising murder rate.
“A lot of our crime is generated around a nexus of narcotics and the re-entry population, folks recently released from incarceration and doing activities that are detrimental to themselves,” Joseph said.
To combat this trend, the city launched the Prison Re-entry Initiative in 2008, which provides resources and support to formerly incarcerated residents in an effort to reintegrate them into the city, as well as programs through which New Haven works with state parole and probation officials to identify individuals with a high risk of recidivism.
The other prong of the city’s strategy to combat violent crime is working to build a more positive relationship with the community, New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman and Joseph said. By patrolling on the streets more and forging closer ties with citizens, the New Haven Police Department can build trust with and more readily obtain information from the community, Hartman added.
This strategy, part of the Elm City’s broader community policing effort, will be bolstered by the arrival of Dean Esserman next month as the new NHPD chief, Joseph said. As NHPD asssistant chief from 1991-’93, Esserman was one of the “founding fathers” of community policing, Joseph added, and he later brought the same on-the-ground tactics to Stamford, Conn. and Providence, R.I., where he served as chief of the cities’ police departments.
City officials also cited the drug business as a factor in the city’s high murder rate. Two ex-drug dealers said that in the absence of brighter prospects, the drug trade is a draw for many former prisoners upon their return to the New Haven.
“When your back’s against the wall and you have kids to feed, you resort to what you know,” said Travis “T-MIZ” Pittman, who was a drug dealer before he became involved in the music industry. “A lot of young brothers come home from jail and try to do what’s right, and they look for a job but they really don’t have [any] help and they can’t find a job.”
Hugh “HG” Gallman said the economy’s recent slump has exacerbated a lack of inner-city job opportunities, particularly affecting young people. He added that some of those without jobs let the “street life” get to them, turning to the narcotics industry, a realm in which “senseless murders” sometimes occur even when money is not involved.
Gallman said the city should do more to create job opportunities for young people if City Hall wants to crack down on crime.
“They have to provide more jobs — provide an opportunity — because without an opportunity then it becomes violence, then it becomes robberies, then it becomes shootings,” he said. But, Pittman said, just creating jobs is not enough.
He explained that people need to want to live and work legitimately to get out of the narcotics business. Once they are discouraged, the situation is like a “revolving door,” he added, in that former criminals return to crime after their stints in jail.
Pittman and Gallman both said they worked their way up from being “soldiers” to being their own bosses in New Haven narcotics circles. Gallman said he knew “at least 20” of the 29 people murdered this past year.
Though the murder rate is the city’s highest in 17 years, the overall crime rate is down 9 percent from last year.
Alan Sage contributed reporting.