After a relatively tranquil summer, New Haven was struck by a series of homicides in the two weeks before students began moving into their dorm rooms.
In the three months after finals, the Elm City was en route to a record low summer homicide count of only four murders — a significant reduction compared to the 11 homicides in the summer of 2011 and nine homicides during the same period in 2012, according to police records. But between Aug. 11–26, New Haven witnessed a string of three yet-unsolved murders, lifting the city’s murder tally to a total of 13 homicides since January.
The last homicide to hit the streets of the Elm City took place between late Sunday night and early Monday morning this week in the midst of Camp Yale celebrations. At about midnight, the New Haven Police Department received several reports of gunfire in the area around 127 Clay St., the heart of the city’s Fair Haven neighborhood, department spokesman David Hartman said. When police officers arrived on the scene, they found Marquis Harris suffering from a single gunshot wound to his head. Harris, a 22-year-old New Haven resident, was transported by ambulance to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he died as a result of his wound later that morning.
Detectives from the department’s Major Crimes Division and Bureau of Identification have opened an investigation into the case and are currently in the process of interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence, Hartman said. No information has yet been released regarding a potential suspect or the motive behind the shooting.
Eleven days prior to Harris’s death, an evening shooting in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood led to the death of Devaante Jackson, an 18-year-old West Haven resident. Jackson was shot around 8:14 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 15, at the intersection of Rosette and Hurlburt street — a 10-minute drive south from Yale’s central campus. Rushed to Yale-New Haven hospital to receive treatment, the victim remained in critical condition for hours and was ultimately pronounced deceased later that night.
While investigations into the 18-year-old’s death are still ongoing, Hartman said that the police department’s detectives are following “strong leads” in the case. The shooter, he added, appears to have fled in a white Chrysler 300, adorned with chrome wheel rims, tinted windows and a sunroof.
Just four days before Jackson’s murder, a birthday party ended in tragedy after a shooting broke out at the Cheetah Club, a nightclub located at 169 East St.
Torrance Dawkins, of Waterbury, Conn., was celebrating his 22nd birthday on Aug. 11, when he was shot and killed in the parking lot adjacent to the club, only a few minutes away from the I-95 Connecticut Turnpike. It was the third homicide this year to involve a bar or a club, bringing the NHPD’s attention to the issues of gun violence in the city’s nightclubs, Hartman said.
With 13 homicides in total this year, New Haven’s murder tally has surpassed the number of homicides at this time in 2012. Still, the murder count is far down from the 24-homicide high in the first eight months of 2011 – a grisly year that saw a total of 34 murders in only 12 months.
This reduction in violent crime has often been attributed to the NHPD Chief Dean Esserman’s commitment to a model of community policing, a philosophy that moves officers away from their desks and puts them on walking patrols around the city to build relationships with the public.
Community policing has received recognition from Mayor John DeStefano Jr. as well as other political figures, including most recently Gov. Dannel Malloy. During an Aug. 19 visit to New Haven, Malloy praised the police department’s efforts to combat gang violence through community policing.
“You didn’t hear anyone say a bad thing about the police department and its efforts in respect to community policing,” Malloy said after a round-table discussion with DeStefano, Esserman, members of the New Haven state legislative delegation and several other community members.
Most Elm City residents also appear to appreciate Esserman’s community-based strategy, according to Mark Abraham, executive director of DataHaven, a nonprofit organization that compiles public statistics for the Greater New Haven area.
“[For residents], seeing police officers walking or conducting bicycle patrols on main streets like Whalley Avenue […] is a visible reminder that police are nearby and can help them get to know the officers in their department on a personal level,” Abraham said.
However, he added, it is not yet possible to assess whether community policing is primarily responsible for the city’s drop in crime, as many factors have an impact on New Haven’s crime rate, including socioeconomic inequality and the uneven distribution of violent crime from neighborhood to neighborhood.
At this time last year, the city had recorded 12 murders, en route to a three-year low of 17 homicides.