In 1973, the New Haven Parks Department planted 72 Yoshino cherry blossom trees around Wooster Square Park. They resonated with the serenity of the city’s sacred garden. Cultivated in the Edo period in Japan, these trees have sparked cherry blossom festivals around the world. Fragrant, white-pink flowers sprout from an ornamental branching pattern, igniting the senses. In Wooster, the annual blooming of the trees invokes a celebration of spring’s beginning, attracting guests from around the state. But this year, special guests Representative Rosa DeLauro and Mayor John DeStefano may be too late. Spring has already arrived in Wooster.
Just as we began to feel the warmth of the new season, a series of cold-hearted attacks struck our peaceful park. At 78 Olive, a man suffered a broken nose during a gang assault and attempted robbery. In the same week a car was stolen from my building’s parking lot, a nearby corner store was robbed at gunpoint, and, just as I read about the shooting at Toad’s, a gunpoint robbery occurred only a few blocks from the square. So what is the cause of this sudden surge of crime around the city? Criminals have finally returned to “work” after a long, cold winter. As NHPD Police Chief Frank Limon said at a recent town hall meeting, “Obviously, when the weather gets better there’s an uptick in violence.”
A year ago this week, Chief Limon was sworn in as the chief of the New Haven Police Department. The ceremony quickly transformed into a public forum as residents called on him to address the growing number of violent offenses on the streets. At the time, Chief Limon had few comments, stating he needed more time to learn about the city. “I inherited this murder situation,” Limon said, a man of trite answers. As a career Chicago PD supervisor, he is no stranger to combating violent crime or understanding trends. But his recent public comment regarding the “spring uptick” does little to dispel the growing feeling of lawlessness downtown. This raises the question: after a whole year, has Chief Limon learned anything about our city? Has he united the department, invigorated the community, and developed a broad vision for our future?
Sadly, the answer is no. In February, the department held a no-confidence vote against him and Assistant Chiefs Tobin Hensgen and Thomas Wheeler. Wheeler retired a month later, after less than a year on the job. He was the third assistant chief to leave since Chief Limon’s arrival. Spats between the city’s administration and officers intensified with the laying off of 16 cops that same month. One rambunctious supervisor stated that New Haven residents “are going to have to start arming themselves” in order to protect life and property. Though these comments were inappropriate, they speak to the level of dissatisfaction among the city’s officers. With Limon, we employ a department divided.
In my Dec. 1 column, “A City of Broken Windows,” I cited acts of blatant disregard for common courtesy and the law that threaten the security of our streets and promote an environment of lawlessness. To date, few of these issues have been addressed. A shameful downtown environment persists, leaving storefronts empty around the Green, violent crime closing in on campus, and law-abiding residents feeling insecure in their own homes.
These disappointments fall on Limon. Limon was not hired to simply supervise our officers, nor was he hired to state the obvious about crime trends. He was hired to provide organizational vision for a vital public service and promote safety and security. Frankly, no matter how loudly he cries for “community involvement,” the calls will go unheard if the public image of the department remains tarnished. With this in mind, it is clear that Limon has failed.
The time to has come to seriously reconsider Limon’s employment. Chief cannot recover his reputation among the officers or the public, nor can he unite New Havenites. He provides no public service to the people and is not the leader we need at the NHPD. Perhaps he should follow the example of his many assistants and “retire” — or Mayor DeStefano should take the initiative and remove this bad fruit before it spoils the bunch. New Haven is a wonderful city, and we need a wonderful chief who knows and cares about it as much as we do. With such a leader, there may still be hope for the coming season. Because in Wooster Square, though violence has spiked, the cherry blossoms have yet to bloom.
Alex Hawke is a sophomore in Berkeley College, an Eli Whitney student, and a former NYPD officer. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.