Holder, Malloy announce violent crime initiative

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder joined city and state officials to unveil a new program to combat gang violence Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder joined city and state officials to unveil a new program to combat gang violence Tuesday. Photo by Patrick Casey.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to New Haven Tuesday to announce a new program that aims to curb gun violence throughout Connecticut.

Holder was joined by Gov. Dannel Malloy, Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and city officials to announce Project Longevity, a comprehensive plan centered around collaboration between city and community leaders and law enforcement. The program offers current gang members social services like substance abuse therapy and career counseling as an alternative to a life of crime, but promises to bring the full force of the criminal justice system against those who continue to commit violent crime. The program was launched in New Haven on Monday and will soon expand to Hartford and Bridgeport.

“Project Longevity will send a powerful message to those who would commit violent crimes targeting their fellow citizens that such acts will not be tolerated and that help is available for all those who wish to break the cycle of violence and gang activity,” Holder said. “Today’s announcement underscores our commitment to working together — across levels of government and jurisdictional boundaries — to protect the American people from the crime that threatens too many neighborhoods and claims far too many innocent lives.”

Last year, the Elm City witnessed one of the worst years of violent crime in recent decades, with 34 homicides and 122 non-fatal shootings. While homicides in New Haven have since fallen significantly, gun violence remains a considerable problem, particularly among young black males, who make up a majority of this year’s 16 homicides. Statewide, nearly three-quarters of all homicides occurred in Connecticut’s three biggest cities — and the major targets of Project Longevity — New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport.

In New Haven, a group of about 600 residents, most of whom are gang members, are responsible for the vast majority of the city’s violent crime, Malloy said. Project Longevity targets this group through “focused deterrence,” U.S. Attorney David Fein said, concentrating enforcement within the groups responsible for most violent crime.

Developed by Fein’s office in collaboration with local, state and federal government, Project Longevity is modeled after programs that have reduced gun violence in Boston, Chicago and other cities across the country by prosecuting entire gangs for individual cases of violent crime. While group-related homicides dropped by about half in neighborhoods in Chicago, Cincinnati and Providence, Fein said Project Longevity marks the first time that the strategy will be implemented on a statewide basis, although the program was first launched in New Haven.

“I’m optimistic that it will help address the serious crime issues that are facing our city,” Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker said. “I’m happy that the chief of police is looking for creative ways that have been successful in other communities in order to address the problem of violence in the city.”

Project Longevity took effect on Monday when police held two “call-ins” for approximately 25 gang members from the Newhallville and Dwight neighborhoods. The call-ins, one of the central tactics of the project, lay out the different paths available to gang members.

This week’s groups heard from Adult Education Director for the New Haven Board of Education Alicia Caraballo about losing her 24-year-old son to violent crime. The rest of the presentations offered a proverbial carrot and stick: Outreach workers and community members described available services while police and prosecutors warned that each gang member would be investigated if any shootings occur in the future.

Many community groups, like New Haven Family Alliance and United Way of Greater New Haven, have signed onto Project Longevity as service providers. Yale researchers will continue to analyze crime data and identify prime candidates for Project Longevity’s targeted deterrence. The Yale Police Department has no plans to change department procedures for the program, Chief Ronnell Higgins said.

Still, the project will not work without backing from the community, Malloy said.

“This means parents, clergy, neighborhood leaders, grandmothers, aunts, uncles — everyone working toward one goal,” he said. “We are working to regain the trust of the African-American and Latino communities.”

Ward 22 Alderman Jeanette Morrison, though, said that the government needs to do more to engage young men tempted by gang life.

“I think we always need to put more money into … youth services. Providing more options for young people, different things to do,” Morrison said. “And over the last 10 or 15 years, that kind of money has begun to dry up. And over the last 10 or 15 years, that’s where you’ve seen a lot of increase in crime.”

Legislators will watch New Haven to gauge the strategy’s success before it will be implemented across the entire state or nation.

“I’m looking forward to the day when Connecticut is cited as the beginning of a national effort,” Blumenthal said at the press conference.

Connecticut saw 129 homicides in 2011, of which 94 occurred in either New Haven, Hartford or Bridgeport.

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