New Haven sees second murder free month

Wednesday marked the end of New Haven’s second-straight month without a homicide, an interval not seen since summer 2009.

The number of violent crimes is down citywide by more than 20 percent compared to this time last year, according to data from the New Haven Police Department. But city and police officials said it is still too early to tell what role, if any, the community policing strategies implemented in the past three months by NHPD Chief Dean Esserman have played in the drop.

“We’ve implemented many strategic changes, and there are more cops walking the beat, so I think it would be unwise to specifically attribute [the drop in violent crime] to any one thing,” NHPD spokesman David Hartman said. “What we do know is that we have a new chief, a new direction, and have zero homicides to date this year.”

While Hartman said the statistics so far this year are promising, he stressed that “statistics are simply statistics” and rarely provide an insightful look into the city’s crime situation. Since the statistics can change instantly, it would be “arrogant or foolish” to declare the department’s community policing efforts successful yet, he added.

Hartman could not immediately supply detailed statistics of New Haven crime in February, but in January, the violent crime rate was 28.7 percent below the rate in January 2011. This figure includes a 29.9 percent drop in robberies and a 16.7 percent decrease in assaults.

This figure followed a year in which violent crime dropped 11 percent citywide even as the number of homicides rose by 10 to 34 — a 20-year high. By this time last year, the Elm City had recorded four murders.

“It’s a very short period to judge on, but I do think community policing is making a difference in bringing violent crime down significantly,” said Richard Epstein, the chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners. “Some of that is attributable to more visibility of officers on the beat, and other strategies implemented [by Esserman] will make a difference.”

Like Hartman, Epstein cautioned that it is “too early to declare victory yet” but said the Board of Police Commissioners is encouraged by the crime figures posted so far this year.

Hartman said the NHPD’s progress in solving cases, both in the Major Crimes Unit and the newly formed shooting task force, has helped prevent other crimes from being committed.

“When warrants are being signed for past homicides … along with the general increase in solved crimes, if you are a criminal, and you see people being caught and convicted left and right, that seems to be quite a deterrent,” he said.

The last time New Haven saw multiple months without a homicide, between April and August 2009, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. attributed the trend to “more enforcement.”

The community, not just the department, has contributed to the decrease in violent crime, said Bishop Theodore Brooks, who served on the Board of Police Commissioners until earlier this month.

“It has to do with the community itself, with people reaching out to each other and asking them to stop the violence and the senseless killings,” Brooks said.

The involvement of federal and state officials in New Haven policing may also explain the positive crime statistics so far this year, said Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04, who serves on the Board of Aldermen’s public safety committee.

Hausladen said the drop in violent crime may also be related to an improving economic climate in the city. While Hausladen said he did not know specific data about youth employment in the Elm City, hiring has picked up and jobless claims are decreasing in the city.

“Job availability is definitely a factor in crime,” Hausladen said. “Economic viability and possibility and hope — those things do help solve crime. They take the violent offender and make them an active member of society.”

A report presented to the state legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Feb. 10 showed that crime is at a 44-year low in Connecticut.

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