Roughly one year after the New Haven Police Department introduced an updated model of community policing, the number of homicides and deadly shootings in New Haven has decreased significantly.
The Elm City saw a 50 percent drop in homicides from 2011 to 2012 after the rate had increased for three consecutive years. Overall shooting victims in 2012 also plummeted by a third compared to 2011. But despite these signs of less violent crime in the city, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and NHPD Chief Dean Esserman said there is more work to be done.
The 2012 crime statistics were unveiled last week at a City Hall press conference, during which Esserman and DeStefano discussed the new initiatives implemented by the NHPD last year and presented their plans for 2013.
“It’s a beginning,” Esserman said at the press event. “We have a ways to go.”
Last year’s reduction in homicides and shootings follows the return to a strategy known as community policing. When crime reached a 17-year high in 2011, DeStefano announced the appointment of Esserman as New Haven’s new police chief. Esserman — who had previously served as NHPD assistant chief from 1991 to 1993 — spearheaded a return to community policing in New Haven, a strategy that moves officers away from their desks and cars and puts them on walking patrols on the streets.
As police officers roam New Haven neighborhoods and interact with residents, this community-oriented policing strategy aims to increase police visibility, build trust with community residents and deter criminal activities, said City Hall spokeswoman Anna Mariotti.
“People talk to us: They might not talk to the 911 operator, but it’s amazing how they reach out to their police officer,” Esserman said.
Esserman’s strategy seems to have borne fruit. New Haven saw only 17 homicides in 2012, a significant drop compared to the 34 homicides in 2011 and 24 in 2010. Last year’s homicide rate was the lowest since 2009, when 13 homicides were reported to have occurred in the city.
“Literally hundreds of family members and neighbors were affected by that carnage,” DeStefano said concerning the high homicide rate in previous years. “Clearly, we were off-track from where we needed to be. The community knew it, and we all wanted to reset our expectations.”
In addition to community policing, the NHPD created a shooting task force last year composed of police officers, state troopers, prosecutors and the Department of Correction to investigate shootings aggressively.
Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, Yale’s deputy chief communications officer, said he agreed that the decline in violent crime is a result of the new community policing strategy introduced by Esserman, as well as the new police chief’s “more aggressive” approach to the issues around crime that were facing the Elm City.
“I hope New Haven continues to make this type of progress that we’ve seen,” Morand said.
While the numbers of homicides and violent crimes are on the decline, Esserman and DeStefano said the goal is to reduce crime further this year. Extending his community policing strategy, Esserman will soon assign 40 new police officers to walking beats around New Haven, four for each of the 10 city police districts. Despite budget constraints, the department also plans to hire about 100 officers over the next two years.
“The focus of NHPD is and will always be violence, saving lives in the streets of New Haven,” DeStefano said.
Additionally, the NHPD has recently implemented a comprehensive plan called Project Longevity, which is aimed at combating gun and gang violence in the city. The program offers current gang members services like substance abuse therapy and career counseling as an alternative to a life of crime, but grants no tolerance to those who continue to commit violent crime.
Project Longevity, which is modeled after similar initiatives that have reduced gun violence in Boston, Chicago and other cities across the country, was first launched in New Haven on Nov. 26 and will soon be implemented on a statewide basis.
Esserman’s current contract as NHPD chief runs through 2014.
Correction: Jan. 15
A previous version of this article misattributed the quotation about the NHPD’s “more aggressive” approach to violent crime in the city to Mark Abraham ’04, executive director of DataHaven.