Collaborative efforts between the New Haven Police Department, various city offices and the local community helped lead to the swift arrest of the student suspected of shooting a 14 year-old at Hillhouse High School last week.
At around 8 p.m. on Jan. 13, gunshots rang out in front of the school’s Sherman Pkwy. athletic facility, scattering the 2,000-plus spectators filing out after a basketball game. The nine NHPD officers who were already on-hand from the game called for support before finding a discarded handgun and arresting two adults near the scene. They were then directed several blocks away from the school to the intersection of Dixwell Ave. and Munson St., where a gunshot victim was found with non-life-threatening bullet wounds to his leg and hand.
Three days later, a 17 year-old Dixwell New Light High School student turned himself into police for the crime. The suspect, whose name was not released, faces assault and weapons charges. NHPD Chief Dean Esserman cited the cooperative nature of the investigation as a crucial factor in its success.
“The swift apprehension of the responsible individual would not have been possible without the community’s involvement,” Esserman said in a statement released on Wednesday. “It was this collaboration that provided us with the necessary information to make the arrest.”
The arrest signals a major triumph for Esserman’s community policing model — the system features a network analysis component to track criminals through their social relationships. It was through this approach that police investigators were able to find the suspect.
Among those contributing to the arrest were the School Resource and Patrol officers staffed by the New Haven Public School District. Both Esserman and NHPS Superintendent Garth Harries ‘95 offered their praise for the officers’ work during this case.
“Our most important responsibility as a school district is to ensure the safety of our 22,000 students, as well as staff, in our schools,” Harries said in a statement. “I thank Police Chief Esserman… I also thank our own security and school staff for doing all the right things to keep kids safe in school.”
The incident comes just under a month after Hillhouse High was placed on lockdown in response to a phone call, in which a nameless man threatened to shoot one of the school’s teachers. Ultimately, no attacks unfolded, and investigators are still looking for the caller and his potential connection to a similar call that forced the University into lockdown on Nov. 25.
Mayor Toni Harp commended the active role taken by the Hillhouse community last week and said she was “grateful” for the relationships formed with police as a result. This marks apparent progress since November, when Harp said that too few civilians were engaged in the community policing model employed by the NHPD.
Andrew Papachristos, an associate professor of sociology who specializes in the connection between social networks and crime, agreed that the approach taken by the police in this case was a smart one.
“Leveraging and working with community networks absolutely helps to solve such cases and ensure public safety,” Papachristos said.
With this case seemingly closed, Harries said that his attention turns towards the future and efforts to prevent other, potentially more serious incidents. Harries added that an important step in doing so will be to ensure that NHPS students remain on track at school.
“The complexity of the issue of youth gun violence in our community runs deep, but we fail if we do not do everything in our power to confront the problem and change the culture,” Harries said. “Our students deserve nothing less than the chance to work hard, rise up and achieve success in life.”
Former New Haven mayoral candidate Kermit Carolina is the principal of Hillhouse High School.