“City Youth Stat” to help fight violence

In the wake of a string of youth gun deaths since January, Mayor Toni Harp promised a “peaceful retaliation” on Thursday.

Data will be the city’s weapon of choice in the war against gun violence. Flanked by prominent city officials at an afternoon press conference at City Hall, Harp unveiled a new initiative designed to mobilize statistics to identify and assist at-risk children. Regular briefings will allow City Hall, the Board of Education, the police and fire departments and other agencies to share data about truancy, school suspensions, arrests and probation violations.

Termed “City Youth Stat,” the program is modeled on the CompStat system, which was first employed by the New York City Police Department. The system uses technology to help map crime and plan solutions.

“This information will help save lives,” Harp said.

She added that planning for the initiative began as soon as she took office in January and marks an attempt to ensure results-based accountability in the operation of city government. The briefings, weekly at first but subject to change, will kick off Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. at the Co-op High School.

By tracking categories of at-risk behavior, the city will be in a better position to reach the needs of individual students, said New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries ’95.

Harries said the death of 16-year-old Torrence Gamble Jr., who was shot in the head at the beginning of April, was a call to arms to improve safety for teenagers. He recalled an email he received from Gamble’s eighth-grade teacher soon after her student was shot. It described how she had hoped to attend Gamble’s graduation in a few years, not visit him in jail.

“We know these kids. We know who they are,” Harries said, adding that records of truancy and transfers among schools are often helpful indicators of troubled behavior. “Our job is to reach the next Torrence before violence happens.”

Harp said the data program will provide a means for various stakeholders — from police and fire to community advocacy groups — to collaborate. The Department of Children and Families will no longer work in isolation from the city’s Youth Services Department.

New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman and Fire Chief Allyn Wright also threw their weight behind the “City Youth Stat” initiative.

Wright, who has been on the job for just over two weeks, dwelled on two anecdotes from last week’s neighborhood canvass, which aimed to engage with families about problems associated with gun violence. He said he encountered two children in particular — in the Hill neighborhood and in Newhallville — who were eager to make a better future for themselves.

Individual agencies cannot always solve problems by themselves, said Youth Services Director Jason Bartlett. In implementing the data sharing plan, he added, the city must strike a delicate balance between tracking student behavior and ensuring privacy.

The data briefings mark the latest step in the city’s multifaceted attempt to curb gun violence. 50 people have already signed up as mentors with My Brother’s Keeper, a program that will pair police officers and educators with at-risk youth. The city also kept six schools open during this week’s spring recess to provide a safe haven for children.

Rachel Heerema, executive director of the Citywide Youth Coalition, said the city is doing a good job of “drilling down to reach individual young people.” Still, she said realistic goals are critical: If promises of safety to children and families fall through, that only exacerbates the strain.

CompStat was first introduced in New York City in 1994.

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