Esserman brings “CompStat” to NHPD

NHPD_nickdefiesta
Photo by Nick Defiesta.

A new initiative within the New Haven Police Department highlights a recalibration of policing strategy under the leadership of Chief Dean Esserman.

For the past month, the Elm City’s top public safety officials have met every Tuesday morning at the NHPD’s Union Avenue headquarters for “CompStat” meetings, a new means for coordinating crime reduction and prevention introduced by Esserman, who was appointed to lead the department in October. At the meetings, the managers of each of New Haven’s 10 policing districts report crime trends to the rest of the department and other local, state and federal officials with the goal of identifying patterns and brainstorming crime-fighting solutions. By bringing together law enforcement agencies at multiple levels, along with probation and parole officers, the meetings allow the department to proactively police, ensure accountability and track ongoing results, Esserman said.

“[CompStat is] a format of accountability, an inter-agency effort at tracking patterns of crime, tracking criminals and establishing protocols in crime reduction,” said NHPD spokesman David Hartman.

Pioneered by William Bratton when he headed the New York City Transit Police Department and then the New York Police Department, CompStat — short for comparative statistics or computer statistics — uses district crime data to devise coordinated and systematic responses, Hartman said. Esserman served under Bratton at the Transit Police Department in New York — he was named a member of “Bratton’s Brigade” in 2007 by the magazine Governing — and brought similar strategies to Providence, R.I. when he served as chief of the city’s police department from 2003-’11.

At Tuesday’s meeting, crime data from each of the city’s policing districts, as well as citywide statistics, were projected in front of a packed fourth-floor meeting room at the NHPD headquarters. The officials in attendance included Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins, Chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners Richard Epstein and newly elected Ward 18 Alderman Salvatore DeCola.

To kick off the meeting, the citywide crime data for 2012 so far was posted: Violent crimes are down 28.7 percent compared to the numbers from this time last year, with a 29.9 percent drop in robberies and assaults falling 16.7 percent. No homicides have been recorded in 2012, while by this time last year, three people had been murdered.

“It is Feb. 7 and New Haven does not have a homicide,” Esserman said. “No other big city in Connecticut can say that.”

After attendees examined the overall crime data, each of the 10 district managers discussed last week’s statistics for their respective areas, starting with Lt. Rebecca Sweeney-Burns, who oversees the downtown district. She reported that the walking beats assigned to patrol officers in her district had been received positively by local businesses, a view Esserman echoed, adding that he had walked a beat downtown for an hour before Tuesday’s meeting.

As the district managers presented data on criminal activity in their respective districts, including an identification of each crime’s perpetrator, Esserman discussed his plans to revive the community policing model he helped bring to New Haven as NHPD assistant chief in the early 1990s.

Whenever the department “picks up a pattern [of similar crimes in a specific area], we move quickly,” Esserman said, by moving officers to the neighborhood. In addition, officers on the walking beat must “not just walk, but talk,” so that they get to know local business proprietors and other “good people” in their neighborhoods, he said.

The department’s newly strengthened partnership with the state probation and parole departments was also on display Tuesday. Not only have probation and parole officers begun to move into the NHPD headquarters, but their work has also been integrated into the CompStat meetings. At the meeting, Esserman asked about each criminal’s probation status after they were identified.

Hartman said this new emphasis on probation and parole is a result of the city’s concern about recidivism. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. repeatedly stressed last year that around 70 percent of New Haven’s crime comes from either the narcotics trade or the prison re-entry population.

Throughout the meeting, Esserman invited comments from the members of the YPD in attendance — including Higgins and Assistant Chiefs Steven Woznyk and Michael Patten. When discussing downtown crime issues, Higgins spoke about the recent spate of noise complaints and incidents of public urination by University of New Haven and Quinnipiac students in the area between Toad’s Place and Mory’s.

“Since the YPD and NHPD share some of the same geography, crime problems and interests, it makes sense to coordinate our efforts beginning with communication,” Higgins said. “The CompStat format also brings many nontraditional public and private partners into the process and brings more resources to bear on problem-solving efforts, and, being a weekly meeting, gives opportunities to discuss and analyze problems in a timely fashion.”

Higgins added that YPD district managers Lts. Bill Holohan and Joe Vitale work with and communicate directly with their NHPD counterparts, both in and out of the CompStat process, to identify and solve crime issues by sharing resources and strategies.

CompStat meetings take place at 10 a.m. every Tuesday at the NHPD headquarters.

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