Report shows statewide crime decrease

Despite New Haven’s reputation as a dangerous city, the overall crime rates in Connecticut have decreased in the past several years, a report issued Friday by the governor’s office showed.

Undersecretary Mike Lawlor, Gov. Dannel Malloy’s criminal justice advisor, published “Trends in the Criminal Justice System” on Friday, releasing updated official data that accounted for arrest numbers, prison populations, drug violations and shootings.

Lawlor said the information — which shows where resources have been successful in the past and make suggestions for their future allocation — is important for both policymakers and Connecticut residents to see and understand.

The report highlighted reductions of 23.7 percent in criminal arrests from 2009 to 2013, 8.1 percent in prison population since 2010 and 11.2 percent in index crimes, eight dangerous crimes specified by the FBI such as willful homicide and forcible rape— from 2008 to 2012, among other metrics.

“The legislators are debating the pros and cons of different approaches,” Lawlor said. “Gun control is a hot topic, so are diversionary programs and intervention in prisons. [They’re debating] where to spend the money, where to focus efforts — it’s better that people understand what’s really happening.”

Lawlor said he views the drop in arrests as the most promising trend in the report. In the last 10 years, statewide arrests peaked at 124,249 in 2009, slowed to 101,065 in 2012 and then to 94,856 in 2013. He added that the “significant” reduction will have major implications for prison policy.

New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman agreed that the numbers in the report are generally encouraging, but was hesitant to say that fewer arrests indicate reduced crime, citing police involvement at this year’s Greater New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade where arrest numbers, about 20, were unusually high. Still, he said the situation remained relatively calm and passed without major incident.

“We’re appreciative that the numbers have stayed down,” Hartman said. “That said, we don’t generally like calling them successes because we fully realize that you can have a couple good years followed by a couple less productive years. We’ll move ahead and do what we’re supposed to do to keep this crime rate dropping.”

The report also featured a section on urban homicides and shootings in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven, which accounted for around half of all Connecticut homicides in the past three years. Since 2011, shooting incidents have decreased each year in all three cities. New Haven saw only 66 in 2013, compared to 133 in 2011. Homicides, though varying by city, have also dropped overall in the three cities since 2011.

Hartman attributed the downward trends to a number of factors, including the relocation of probation and parole agencies to the department’s Union Avenue offices and the activation of programs like Project Longevity, which uses social network analysis to curb crime, and a shooting task force, which focuses on non-homicidal gun violence in New Haven.

“There’s a better understanding now that shootings, in general, are the problem,” Hartman said. “Whether or not a shooting ends up in a homicide doesn’t lessen its impact — it still poses a danger to the public.”

City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said he was very encouraged by what he saw in the report, naming NHPD Chief Dean Esserman’s community-based policing model as the principal reason for the success in the eyes of Mayor Toni Harp.

He added that the most important function served by reports like Lawlor’s is keeping the public informed about life in New Haven. Grotheer called sharing this information a “quality of life issue.”

Mark Abraham ’04, the executive director of DataHaven, reacted positively to some patterns seen in the report, like lower recidivism rates, but urged careful inspection of the data before drawing definitive conclusions.

“Most of the report seems to show that statewide criminal justice figures are fairly flat over the long term,” Abraham said. “I think that it will do little to please advocates who believe that our state spends too much on prisons, or placate those who continue to be concerned about gun violence, for example.”

When accounting for instances of small sample size, limited context and missing data points, some trends appear to be overstated, Abraham said. At worst, however, it is the magnitude, not the direction of these patterns that would be affected.

Despite the fact that the report deck does not highlight any climbing crime rates, Lawlor insisted on its completeness and significance.

“There aren’t many [increasing trends in state crime],” Lawlor said. “We didn’t leave anything out because it’s a bad indication. Across the board, everything is headed in the right direction.”

The report shows the state re-arrest rate among adult probationers to have fallen consistently from 2007, 47 percent, to 2013, 42 percent.

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