Crime is on the decline in Elm City — since the end of 2011, homicides and shooting incidents have fallen by nearly 50 percent.
According to new data released late last week by the New Haven Police Department, homicides in the Elm city dropped 46.2 percent during the January-October period from 2011 to 2013. During the same time span, the incidence of nonfatal shooting victims fell by 49 percent, and the number of shots fired fell by 44.1 percent. Experts interviewed said the marked decline in crime is likely due to several major factors, including effective leadership within the New Haven Police Department, an increase in police presence and a community-oriented focus.
“My marching orders from the mayor and the Board of Aldermen [were] to focus on the violence and to bring community policing back to every neighborhood of this city,” said New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman. “And that’s what we’ve been working very hard on now for the past two years.”
Since he was appointed police chief in November 2011, Esserman has reinstated a community-policing strategy, requiring new officers to spend their first year on the job walking a beat in one of New Haven’s neighborhoods.
The community-policing strategy aims to familiarize different neighborhoods with their dedicated officers, in the hopes that neighborhood residents would feel comfortable approaching an officer they trust to report situations that can potentially escalate into crimes. To that end, the police department has also increased the amount of block watches and is expanding the Police Athletic League Camp, a summer camp for New Haven children. These initiatives are meant to humanize officers, Esserman said.
“The police are there to support the community and help empower the community to solve their [own] problems,” Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 said.
Other partnerships have also played a role in decreasing crime. On a macroscopic level, the New Haven Police Department works closely with departments on the state level, such as that of corrections, probation, and parole. Within the city of New Haven, Esserman cited bonds with schools, clergy and the Yale Child Study Center as essential in combatting crime.
Esserman stressed that his collaboration with the Yale Police Department is especially significant in his department’s overall strategy. Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins told the News in an email that the Yale Police Department’s participation in weekly NHPD CompStat meetings further unites the two departments.
“The Yale Department is absolutely one of our strongest partners — we are joined at the hip,” Esserman said.
Budget and policy have also positively affected the New Haven Police Department. Hausladen said that after the spike in homicides in 2011, the Board of Aldermen focused extensively on incorporating public safety issues in its legislative agenda.
While crime as a whole declined, the cases of motor vehicle theft have significantly increased in the past year. Esserman attributed this spike in part to expensive possessions that might be within the cars, such as cell phones and computers. To combat this issue, the New Haven Police Department has undergone a series of successful raids of stolen electronic goods.
“We really have a long way to go,” Esserman said. “The last thing we believe in in the New Haven police is patting ourselves on the back or resting on our laurels.”
To that end, Andrew Papachristos, an associate professor of sociology at Yale, suggests a two-pronged approach to curtailing crime. According to Papachristos, long-term crime reduction strategies include community interventions, such as combating issues with the current education system, employment opportunities and prison re-entry. In the short-term, he cites the merit of efforts such as Project Longevity, which seeks to reduce gang-related violence through close monitoring of gang activity.
“I think a lot of the strategies that we see as promising in cities including New Haven are [those] that tend to focus on intervention and prevention efforts,” Papachristos said.
While Papachristos noted general declining trend in violent crime, he cautioned against an over-reliance on statistics to reflect current conditions in New Haven. But Esserman emphasized that, no matter the current fluctuations in crime rates, each individual crime is still significant.
“I know well that behind every one of those statistics is a story — behind every one of those numbers on that chart is a name. And I know their names,” Esserman said. “And I know to a mother those statistics and those numbers mean nothing.”
The New Haven Police Department has hired 68 officers over the past 18 months and plans to hire around 100 officers in 2014.