Mayor John DeStefano Jr. sketched out a broad strategy for improving the Elm City’s public safety in his State of the City address at City Hall Monday evening.
The mayor set out two missions — establishing a clear strategy for reducing violence crime and reinvigorating community partnerships with the police — as part of a five-pronged plan to enhance the security of city residents. DeStefano’s five strategies, which include creating a shooting investigation unit and reviving the ‘cold case’ unit in the New Haven Police Department, as well as expanding the department’s community policing efforts, drew praise from members of the Board of Aldermen. But members of the board also said they were waiting on the mayor to finalize the staffing structure and financial plans for the new initiatives before they could assess its financial viability.
“In 2011, we lost 34 people to violent crime,” DeStefano said in his address, referring to New Haven’s 20-year-high homicide count. “It isn’t normal. We must never think it’s normal, or that someone deserved it, or most important that we can’t do something about it. We can. We will.”
To address the city’s violent crime — which dropped 11 percent in the first half of last year — DeStefano emphasized partnerships between the NHPD and state and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as city residents.
The NHPD will continue to implement strategies that address gang violence and “other blights” these gangs bring to local neighborhoods, such as open-air drug dealing, DeStefano said, calling the strategy “High Point” after the North Carolina city in which it was pioneered. The strategy aims to “interdict the behaviors behind violence” by bringing federal and state law enforcement, probation and social services agencies together to combat recidivism, he explained.
NHPD Chief Dean Esserman, who was in attendance Monday along with his 10 district managers, said he would bring “High Point” to New Haven when he was appointed in October. When he served as chief of the police department in Providence, R.I., he oversaw the federal government’s first successful effort to replicate the program, according to the New Haven Independent.
Since he took the NHPD’s top job Nov. 18, Esserman has introduced several of the other strategies DeStefano highlighted. With only 27 of last year’s 133 shootings solved, the NHPD has created a new shootings task force with funding from the Connecticut state attorney’s office, DeStefano said.
In addition to this new unit, the NHPD will renew efforts to solve cold cases, DeStefano said, adding that the city may need to change some personnel rules in order to implement the move.
“Every day the police department needs to be out there building relationships,” DeStefano said. “Things like inviting the [community] management teams to staff to substations, or participating in youth programs, or just by walking the beat.”
The NHPD will continue to roll out walking beats for its patrol officers in the city’s 10 policing districts as part of Esserman’s efforts to revive the community policing model he helped introduce to the city as assistant chief under former NHPD Chief Nicholas Pastore in the early 1990s.
DeStefano’s proposed changes, however, will require more officers. The mayor said he believes the community wants to double the number of cops on walking beats from 20 to 40, as well as add additional school resource officers.
All of these plans will require additional funding in the city budget, noted Board of Aldermen President and Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez. Perez said he looks forward to the mayor’s formal presentation of his plans to the Board, explaining that “there’s a lot of misinformation” in the discussion about expanding the police department. The city budgets for 467 officers, but only around 400 spots are filled at the moment, he explained.
Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04, who represents the downtown area and sits on the Board’s public safety and finance committees, said he expects the city’s renewed efforts at partnership with state, federal and community groups will translate into increased grant money to help fund the new 40 to 45 new officers DeStefano intends to hire.
So far this year, no murders have been recorded.