Alders discuss public safety

After New Haven saw a 2000 percent drop in its crime rate since the end of 2007, Mayor-elect Toni Harp’s ARC ’78 administration and the newly elected Board of Aldermen seek to continue this positive trend in public safety.

The Public Safety Committee, comprised of seven aldermen, held its last meeting of 2013 on Tuesday night to discuss the year’s main public safety concerns and outline an agenda for 2014. A hot topic on Tuesday night was New Haven’s nightlife in light of the October fatal shooting at the Key Club Cabaret strip club, where one woman, 26-year-old Erica Robinson, was killed and five others injured.

Committee member and Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04, whose ward contains many of the city’s nightclubs, has been examining the club scene since the shooting.

“What we really need is more regular [law] enforcement, so nightclubs know what to expect,” Hausladen said. “Right now we go through waves of enforcement every quarter.”

Committee chair and Ward 29 Alderman Brian Wingate suggested a regulation of three bouncers per club and a Bew Haven Police Department training program for bouncers as two possible goals for 2014.

Barbara Constantinople, Committee member and Ward 11 Alderwoman, noted the issue of underage drinking in nightclubs. Hausladen agreed, claiming that the most dangerous of New Haven’s clubs were those that advertised after-hours drinking, between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., with a “bring your own bottle” policy. This past year, these clubs allowed the most underage drinkers, he said. Constantinople added that such activity can easily be curbed through stricter I.D. checks.

Another committee goal targeting New Haven youth is to launch a gun buy-back initiative. A buy-back would offer teenagers gift certificates to popular clothing or shoe stores in exchange for their guns, Wingate said. Bridgeport saw success with such a program this year, taking 169 guns off the streets.

Wingate said he believes getting started on the gun buy-back program is the most important item on the 2014 agenda.

“One hundred sixty-nine guns is a lot,” he said. “And our homicide rate is higher than Bridgeport’s.” Bridgeport has seen 12 homicides this year, while New Haven has seen 17.

The committee was also concerned about the response of city police officers in the critical time period immediately after crimes are reported. Wingate said that, in his ward, police officers were taking reports solely over the phone instead of arriving at a crime scene.

He added that one of his constituents waited for two hours at the scene of the crime after calling police about a car break-in, but was never met by an officer.

“People get disgusted,” Constantinople said of her constituents. “So they don’t care if they call the police or not.”

Looking forward, committee vice chair and Ward 17 Alderman Alphonse Paolillo Jr. noted that two key ways to advance public safety in 2014 are to improve crime data collection and increase manpower in the police department.

The city plans to hire 26 additional officers in the NHPD, Wingate said. But Paolillo said that retaining officers, rather than recruiting them, remains one of the main issues facing the police force.

The Committee plans to meet again in December to hold a public hearing.

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