The first three months of 2007 saw a decline in overall crime in New Haven, but non-lethal shootings were up, following a trend that started late last year, police officials announced Monday.
Overall crime for the first quarter of 2007 was down by 6 percent compared to the same period last year, New Haven Police Department Chief Francisco Ortiz and Mayor John DeStefano said at a press conference. Notably, there were no homicides, compared to five the first quarter of 2006. But the first quarter of 2007 was marked by continued increases in both assault and non-lethal shootings, problems that Ortiz said the NHPD hopes to remedy with increased community outreach.
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Ortiz said the lack of homicides over the last three months is notable but should not be taken for granted.
“I don’t recall any time in my 29 years [here] a first quarter with no homicides,” he said at Monday’s press conference. “We’re on the right track.”
Ortiz attributed the drops to strengthened partnerships between police officers and parole officers, the State’s Attorney Office and block watches, among others. He also said an increased and more consistent presence of officers on the streets may have contributed to the decline.
Despite the drop in homicides, robberies and larcenies, the city saw increases in incidents of assault, including non-lethal shootings, which are up 12 percent compared to the first quarter of 2006, according to city statistics.
DeStefano said the shooting numbers are comparable to those of the last three months of 2006, with 43 shooting victims so far this year.
NHPD Assistant Chief Herman Badger said recent shootings seem to have taken place for different reasons than those that occurred last year. According to interviews with victims and shooters, he said, shootings last year were mainly associated with neighborhood rivalries, while now they more often seem to be the result of robberies and drug-related disputes. Still, he said, the NHPD needs to work on strengthening community outreach efforts.
“That’s not to say we’re not experiencing the neighborhood stuff,” Badger said. “We have to make sure our street outreach team is out there.”
Both Ortiz and Badger pointed to the new Street Outreach Workers Program, which has not yet started its work, as a possible way to reduce violent crime, especially among youth, who Badger said are still overrepresented in violent crime.
Officer Shafiq Abdussabur, police coordinator for the program, said the street outreach workers will respond to incidents of violence, especially among youth, with proactive social development. The program will reach out to the most at-risk individuals and try to show them alternatives to crime, he said.
“Their job is to respond to shootings and violence … and also to follow up with those involved to find out how they got into that situation,” he said. “There needs to be round-the-clock access to street workers.”
Abdussabur said he expects to have four street outreach workers trained and working by May, with all nine workers ready by the start of the next school year.
Ortiz echoed Abdussabur’s call for increasing cooperation between police and the community. He said community members need to cooperate fully with the police to prevent problems from escalating.
For example, Ortiz said, of the 47 illegal guns confiscated from the streets this year, only a handful had been reported as stolen by their original owners.
“Only six of the guns found this year were reported stolen,” he said. “We should be outraged.”
And though fewer guns have been confiscated from the street so far this year than at this time last year, a greater number of those arrested for gun possession had prior criminal convictions, demonstrating that the NHPD is targeting the right groups, Ortiz said.
DeStefano said he expects the NHPD to hold another recruitment drive over the summer to fill the 14 new positions for sworn officers that the city is budgeting for the fiscal year beginning in July. The city is currently accepting applications for 26 non-sworn positions, such as records clerks.