Since 1992, the year before Mayor John DeStefano Jr. was elected to his first term, the number of major crimes reported in New Haven has decreased by over 45 percent, according to Police Department statistics. Murder is down 40 percent, burglary is down 60 percent and other crimes have made similar declines.
As DeStefano seeks a fifth term as mayor, he and his allies point to the decrease in crime as a sign of good city administration and effective police.
But state Sen. Martin Looney, who is challenging DeStefano in September’s Democratic primary, maintains that the city’s crime prevention needs reinvigorating and says that DeStefano should not take all the credit for gains.
“The economy has generally improved and our population has gotten smaller,” Looney said. “The combination of those factors has had the most to do with crime reduction.”
Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99, DeStefano’s campaign manager, said that while the mayor cannot take all the credit, he did play a significant role.
“We will be able to show that the mayor’s strong leadership style and his constant innovation in all areas of the department have really enhanced community policing,” Gonzalez said. “Through the mayor’s leadership, crime has been cut in half, far ahead of the national average.”
Many in the city often trace the start of crime’s downward trend to the work done by former Police Chief Nicholas Pastore, who was appointed by Mayor John Daniels and served from 1990 to 1997. Under Pastore, who is praised by DeStefano and Looney alike, the Police Department established a community policing system which has become a national model for the philosophy.
But Looney says the Pastore initiatives, which began under Daniels, have very little to do with DeStefano.
Pastore, who called DeStefano “a close friend” even as he was leaving the department for personal reasons, said Thursday that the mayor played a major part in the department’s changes.
“Without DeStefano’s leadership, support and resources, we wouldn’t have any community policing,” Pastore said. “He was a strong ally and a good adviser.”
DeStefano said he wants to build on past accomplishments.
“Crime is down dramatically,” DeStefano said. “We want to continue to drive it down further, continue to focus on building relationships with citizens.”
Alderwoman Robin Kroogman, chairwoman of the board’s public safety committee, said she did not think the city was safe. She cited excessive speeding and other examples of the law being ignored. She also complained that police are less accessible to citizens on evenings and weekends.
Kroogman, who has not said whom she will support in the mayoral election, said the situation was better several years ago, but has since declined.
“Then, there were attempts made to do things differently,” Kroogman said. “I just worry about what’s going to happen to this city.”
Looney campaign manager Jason Bartlett agreed that the situation is not as good as the numbers would indicate.
“I think there’s an uneasiness about crime and about public safety in the city,” Bartlett said, adding that the Looney campaign would look at the statistics on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis to get a clearer picture. Bartlett said there needs to be increased communication with the community and more police training.
Gonzalez said there is always room for improvement, but that the mayor’s record speaks for itself.
“I don’t understand how an adminstration that has cut crime in half is coming under fire,” Gonzalez said. “The choice is to keep going with someone who has a proven track record, or take a risk on someone who has never ever held an executive position.”
Looney said there is often a gap between reality and perception when it comes to public safety, but that increased involvement with the community will ensure the public realize the city is getting safer.
But Alderman Jelani Lawson ’96 said an increase in police visiblity has contributed to a general feeling that the city is safe.