Crime is at a 44-year low in Connecticut.
That statistic was one of several laid out last Friday by Mike Lawlor, the state’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, as he addressed the state legislature’s Judiciary Committee on crime trends statewide. Though Lawlor touted positive state data, including a 11.4 percent drop in arrests in 2011 and a 10 percent drop in criminal recidivism over the past three years, New Haven officials and community leaders said these statistics may not be representative of New Haven’s recent experience with crime.
“The good news is that crime is down, and down significantly,” Lawlor said in his address. “Like most states, we have adopted proven best practices and they are working. Community policing, state‐of‐the‐art technology and risk-reduction interventions for offenders are all paying off.”
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While Lawlor said “no one knows” what is causing the fall in crime rates, no one factor is the sole reason. He added that reduction in criminal activity reflects a national trend — crime rates have been steadily dropping nationwide since a peak in the early 1990s, according to data in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports.
Last year, New Haven experienced a 11 percent drop in violent crime even as homicides rose to 34, a 20-year high. Violent crimes in 2012 are down more than 25 percent compared to the numbers from this time last year, according to the New Haven Police Department data, and no homicides have been recorded so far this year.
Crime in the Elm City has followed a different trajectory from the rest of Connecticut, said Bishop Theodore Brooks, who until last Friday served on the city’s Board of Police Commissioners.
“I think New Haven is unique in itself — while other crimes are down, it’s been the violent crimes that have been noticeable,” he said.
Decreasing violent crime in New Haven requires “changing the culture on the street,” Brooks said, adding that this is precisely what NHPD Chief Dean Esserman is hoping to accomplish through his renewed focus on community policing strategies.
In addition to community policing, Lawlor said his office was “fully invested” in initiatives in New Haven to stop the “senseless killings of young African-American men.” This will be done by focusing policing energies on the groups, including gangs, responsible for the shootings and the specific neighborhoods in which they operate, he said.
Many of those committing violent crimes are repeat offenders — Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and other city officials stressed last year that a high percentage of violent crime is committed by people returning to the city post-incarceration.
While violation of probation is the number one crime for which people serve jail time in Connecticut, the number of offenders under probation has dropped more than 10,000 in the past few years, Lawlor said.
Combating recidivism in New Haven requires coordination between the NHPD, probation and parole officers, Connecticut’s state attorney’s office and the community, NHPD spokesman David Hartman said. The NHPD is also establishing a task force to investigate unsolved non-fatal shootings and prosecute offenders to “keep them locked up,” one of the unit’s leaders told the New Haven Register.
According to Lawlor, 72 percent of the state’s prison population is African-American or Latino.