Alders back violence prevention plan

A recent rash of teen violence has called the city to reflect on its commitment to public safety and security.

One part of that commitment pertains to an area of concern to Mayor Toni Harp — New Haven’s downtown nightclub scene, which saw legislative action Tuesday night by the Board of Alders’ public safety committee. Lawmakers unanimously backed the mayor’s “Legislative Action Plan” to address a spate of shootings in or near nightclubs at the end of last year. They included the creation of an entertainment policing district, increased oversight of liquor license renewals and tightened standards for private security guards. All require legislative approval by the state.

Harp said the crackdown on “problem clubs” and the effort to quell teen violence are related — and that the fallout from the teens’ deaths brings renewed focus to other public safety initiatives.

Twenty-year-old Durrell Patrick Law, 17-year-old Taijhon Washington and 16-year-old Torrence Gamble Jr. were all killed in shootings in the past three-and-a-half months. Those deaths spurred a city-wide canvass last week to address gun violence.

“Those tragic deaths certainly give new meaning to this effort,” Harp said, referring to the action plan first drawn up by her predecessor, former Mayor John DeStefano Jr. “This is about the Board of Alders hearing our proposals and showing their support, which is important for the state delegation.”

Harp added that she will be unveiling specific measures to address youth violence later this week. She said she wants to get the community involved in mentoring programs.

At-risk youth need more “safe havens” in the city, Harp said, pointing to fire stations as a potential option. She said her office is also interested in locating resources for a youth jobs program that would keep children at risk for violence engaged in productive behavior.

One of the goals of the club violence crackdown is keeping minors away from alcohol. Since a special police detail for bars took effect last September, police have seen increased compliance, said Lieutenant Jeff Hoffman. He said the special detail, engaged Thursday through Saturday from 11 p.m. till 3 a.m., costs about $7,000 a week. To formalize the detail under a downtown policing district, the city would need to locate a specific funding stream, said Rebecca Bombero, acting parks director and a legislative liaison.

Bombero said most of the work involves gearing up for next year’s legislative session in Hartford. With only the shortened session this year, bills typically must have a negligible fiscal impact or be attached to other legislation. Still, she said a handful of the mayor’s proposals could become law this year.

Michael Harris ’15, Harp’s liaison to the Board, said the alders’ vote is critical in making that happen. He called the endorsement of the “Legislative Action Plan” a show of support for the city’s larger effort to look into numerous “problem establishments,” including the Lazy Lizard club and the Key Club, where six people were shot — one fatally — in October 2013.

Ward 26 Alder Darryl Brackeen, Jr. raised two objections to the proposed resolution, saying both that the legislation did not have enough “teeth” to it and that it threatened to undermine local commerce. Hoffman replied that businesses have been included in conversations surrounding the crackdown, and that NHPD Police Chief Dean Esserman has been meeting one-on-one with owners of downtown establishments serving liquor.

Brackeen and the other alders were appeased, asking only for one amendment to a clause giving police the authority to oversee any establishment that is the site of three or more calls for emergency service in a period of 30 days. Town Green District Executive Director Win Davis said he was worried the language would discourage club owners from calling the police in the event of a medical emergency. Alders amended the language to specify “police-related, non-medical” calls.

Other aspects of the city’s proposed action plan include expanded means of proving a club owner is in violation of the law. More minor infractions that would not warrant an independent investigation by the Department of Consumer Protection would be factored into a more holistic assessment of an establishment’s compliance.

Bombero said the measures are reasonable and reflect a common-sense commitment to public safety.

“You don’t want to have to use the stick, but you want the stick to be in your back pocket,” she said.

A number of the mayor’s proposals are currently in effect under a pilot “problem bar” bill. Part of the “Legislative Action Plan” is asking lawmakers in Hartford to extend that bill.

The Connecticut General Assembly adjourns on May 7.

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