With its homicide count already at a 17-year high, the Elm City saw its 31st murder Sunday evening.
The shooting of Edward Lowery, 29, two blocks from Union Station brought New Haven to just one short of 1994’s 32 homicides, but police officials and community leaders said the economic and social environments in the two time periods differ substantially, and that several new strategies have been implemented to reduce violent crime in the future.
“A lot of murders in the early 1990s were related to gangs, whereas now it’s an economic issue; it’s an education issue; it’s an issue of re-entry and a variety of other sources,” said Richard Epstein, the chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners.
New Haven Police Department Assistant Chief John Velleca said while he does not believe the 2011 murder rate reflects an overall increase in urban violence, there has not been a notable increase in shooting incidents. Based on the NHPD’s analysis of gun violence in the city this year, Velleca added, the majority of shootings involve previously convicted felons.
That was the case Sunday night — Lowery ran away from a halfway house in February, while he was serving a 2007 drug sales sentence, according to State Department of Correction records.
Lowery was shot while riding a bicycle around Liberty and Putnam streets near Union Station at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, NHPD spokesman David Hartman said in a press release. Lowery was taken to a nearby hospital and was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.
The NHPD’s Major Crimes Unit, headed by Lt. Julie Johnson, immediately launched an investigation that remains in its preliminary stages according to Hartman. Johnson said Lowery was shot at least three times in the back of the head, though the New Haven Register reported that witnesses heard seven to eight gunshots.
Epstein said homicides like Sunday’s can only be tackled by addressing the root causes of conflict between citizens. That effort has been hampered in recent years by the frequent changes in the upper management of the NHPD, said Ward 12 Alderman Gerald Antunes, the vice-chair of the Board of Alderman’s public safety committee. The department has seen four chiefs in as many years.
But now, under the leadership of Dean Esserman, who was sworn in as chief Nov. 18, Antunes said he expects the NHPD’s approach to better address the rising homicide count.
“A homicide is very seldom a random crime — generally, police don’t prevent homicides,” he said. “One key thing Esserman has done is get people together to determine where the friction is before trying to quell that issue.”
The community policing tactics Esserman spearheaded in the early 1990s involved putting officers on walking beats around the city so they would interact more with community members. The city, however, saw a steady decrease in these efforts for about a decade under the revolving door of chiefs. A revival of this strategy will help ease community fear at the rising number of homicides, said Donald Morris, head of the Brotherhood Leadership Summit, an New Haven-based antiviolence group.
The Elm City saw only 24 murders in 2010, and 13 in 2009.