NHPD provides support to neighborhood groups

In ongoing effort to integrate the New Haven Police Department with New Haven’s neighborhoods, the police department will arm neighborhood block-watch groups with additional information to help them fight crime in their neighborhoods.

The department has announced that its daily police newsletters detailing the previous day’s events in public safety throughout the city will now be released to block groups, which are made up of attentive citizens who volunteer to help monitor their neighborhoods.

These newsletters — called Flash Sheets — contain data tables, maps and news clippings; previously they had been sent exclusively to all NHPD officers. With this expanded circulation, The NHPD hopes to provide valuable information to help block watches in their localized fights against crime and to further nurture its relationship with the New Haven neighborhoods, something that both NHPD Chief Dean Esserman and Mayor-elect Toni Harp ARC ’78 have called for in recent weeks.

“As months went by, the Flash Sheets evolved as a valuable tool for officers,” department spokesman David Hartman said in a press release. “In the spirit of partnerships, department members have been meeting with block watch and neighborhood groups for some time. It was realized that the information we distributed could be helpful and informative to these citywide groups.”

While running for office, Harp’s public safety platform called for an increased NHPD presence in the city’s many and diverse neighborhoods. Her vision has centered on increased implementation of the community-policing model, in which NHPD officers are assigned walking beats. The program hopes to better integrate the police officers with the neighborhoods, allowing them to talk to and get to know the residents of their assigned area.

Harp added in an interview with the News in November, however, that she wanted to see New Haven’s citizens reciprocate by taking a more active role in block-watch groups and in neighborhood-police relations. Though she did not comment specifically on this latest initiative, the sharing of Flash Sheets is consistent with her policing philosophy.

“We’ve got to get our community police officers to actually engage our district offices and our district leaders,” Harp said to the News in November. “I don’t think that enough community people are engaged, yet, in community-based policing. We don’t have the people who are really going to be the eyes and ears of the justice system in our individual communities.”

The block-watch groups operate in various ways, but most require their members to monitor the neighborhood and report any suspicious activity to police or watch captains. They communicate either through a mailing list or at group meetings, which generally happen once a month. Civilian patrols are not very prominent and have caused the NHPD problems over the years because they focus on catching crime as opposed to preventing it, Hartman said.

Most of the block-watch representatives interviewed from around the city said that their groups have had a positive relationship with the NHPD, which assigns district managers to oversee the various regions of the city. These managers generally serve as the neighborhoods’ primary police contact and represent the department at block-watch group meetings.

Mary Faulkner, the captain for Block Watch 300 in Westville, said that this working relationship has improved noticeably over the years.

“The difference this time is that the NHPD has backed up its commitment to community policing and block watches with a dedicated and competent staff person to coordinate the effort,” Faulkner said. “This has already made a huge difference.”

Block-watch representatives interviewed had different accounts of the involvement of walking beat officers in their local communities — the majority said that they interact with the same NHPD officer on a daily basis, but some had never seen a beat officer in their neighborhood. However, they all agreed that expanding communication through the dissemination of Flash Sheets has helped their operations stay informed.

The Flash Sheets will help those in the neighborhood stay on top of local crime trends, said Lisa Siedlarz, a founder and captain of the SoHu Neighborhood Association’s block watch. Siedlarz named the recent rash of wheel thefts from Honda Fits throughout the city as an example of a crime pattern that she was able to follow with the information provided in the newsletters.

Though the NHPD will continue to support these groups, Hartman said that citizens must be careful not to overstep their limits.

“We’re very much supportive of neighborhood groups that are going to do their part to combat crime and prevent it from happening,” Hartman said in a November interview with the News. “There are plenty of people who think they know [everything] — I’ve been a cop for 19 years and I don’t know these answers. So there has to be some caution.”

The department began sending Flash Sheets out to block-watch groups on Nov. 1.

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