With its New Haven coordinator set to resign his post, Project Longevity rallied behind an announcement that the state would back it with a revised, million-dollar budget line this year.
To account for the antiviolence program’s expansion to Bridgeport and Hartford, Gov. Dannel Malloy decided to increase funding for Project Longevity to $1 million, from the approximately $500,000 it received in its first two years. Previously the funding was used primarily to support New Haven’s Longevity branch.
“Overall, the reductions in homicides and shootings in [Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven] are a clear indication that Project Longevity is, in part, making an impact on the gun violence as it intended to do,” said Bridgeport project director and interim state coordinator Charlie Grady.
Malloy’s criminal justice advisor Mike Lawlor cited year-to-date statistics as evidence that Project Longevity has been successful in its specific goal of reducing the number of people shot and killed in gang shootings: from 2013 to 2014, shootings dropped from 197 to 170. Still, he emphasized that the scope of the operation is limited to a particular area of criminal violence, gang shootings, and that it should not be expected to reduce other crimes.
Much of the program is built around collecting groups of at-risk youth and warning them that any individual’s missteps will result in strict penalties for everyone who has been warned by the police. They are then offered resources, such as housing, economic, education and health services, to help them avoid a future of crime. It is these resources that will benefit most from the state’s demonstrated financial support, Grady said.
“The funding that has been improved is going to make a massive impact on day-to-day operations,” Grady added. “Once we start to actually get hands on those funds and implement new services, we should be able to move this program ahead.”
The program will also fund coordinator salaries and research collaboratives with institutions such as the University of New Haven.
Still, Project Longevity will face a period of transition as it loses one of its founding leaders, with New Haven director William Mathis announcing his resignation from Longevity on Aug. 29.
Mathis will continue to serve in his position through Friday. Though he said he plans to continue to be active in the city’s antiviolence push, he said that widening philosophical gaps drove him to resign.
“I am more interested in what I believe is a comprehensive community initiative in which the people are equal partners and not just in presentation,” Mathis said. “Still, I am going to continue around criminal justice and neighborhood safety. This is a life of work for me.”
Mathis, who has been director since the program’s 2012 inception, added that the administrative aspect of the program sometimes prevents the types of relationships that are central to the success of the program.
Lawlor agreed that the balance between the program’s bureaucratic and community elements can be a tough one to strike, but he remains confident that public officials have managed to shape the program appropriately.
“It’s very much a tightrope,” Lawlor said. “It has to have a lot of local flexibility, but it’s also really important to keep people focused on the one and only goal of this initiative: to stop people from shooting each other for group and gang-involved reasons.”
As the program continues to develop, those involved with its expansion said they will turn to Mathis’ work in New Haven to model successful pushes in Longevity’s other constituent cities.
Tiana Hercules, the Hartford project manager, said that while Mathis’ resignation will not necessarily slow down progress in her city, his work to advance the project at the outset was instrumental to its ability to take hold throughout Connecticut.
In addition to Mathis’ position, the project is seeking a state director to replace Grady and allow him to focus on running the Bridgeport program.