Flanked by leaders from New Haven’s police, fire, education and parks departments, Mayor Toni Harp reflected on the success of the city’s antiviolence youth programs over the past year in a Tuesday afternoon press conference.
Harp and New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman led a joint press conference at the New Haven Police Department’s Union Avenue headquarters to discuss the role of initiatives like YouthStat in the overall drop in violent crime since 2011. Also on hand were New Haven Fire Department Chief Allyn Wright, New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries ’95, Youth Services Director Jason Bartlett and Parks, Recreation and Trees Director Rebecca Bombero — each of whom spoke about the specific program backed by their respective departments.
“There are signs of progress to report and reasons to be very hopeful,” Harp said. “It is very important for city residents — those who work here — business owners and visitors to be aware of this encouraging trend. All credit for this progress goes to the idea of community-based policing.”
Harp focused on decreases in three areas of crime — shooting homicides, non-fatal shootings and shots fired — as indicators that the Elm City’s streets have grown safer under Esserman’s watch. The latter two metrics have both dropped consistently between 2011 and 2014, while homicides have settled near half the 2011 total of 25 over the past three years.
In addition to Esserman’s overall approach to policing, Harp cited the collaboration across departments and with the private sector as critical factors in the city’s progress.
“It’s numbers, but for us, it’s names — it’s not statistics, it’s stories,” Esserman said. “But every category in crime is down in the city. For a city to thrive … it must be safe and it must be sacred, and we are moving in that direction.”
Harries also provided a set of numbers, detailing the performance of the city’s YouthStat program, which launched in April to engage at-risk youth and to connect them to beneficial opportunities in order to prevent them from slipping into a life of crime.
Three hundred thirty-three students have entered the program, 200 of whom remain in constant contact with YouthStat directors at the request of their parents, Harries said. He added that more than 100 enrolled in summer activities through the city’s resources, and Bartlett said that 88 were connected to jobs in the same way.
Harries went on to say that the mission driving these programs is a desire to engage youth who might be coerced into illegal activity if they remained idle for an extended period of time over the summer — the same thinking that prompted some city schools to remain open beyond their normal operating hours.
Michael Steers, a regional administrator for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, emphasized the innovative nature of YouthStat programs as a key driver of its success.
“The Mayor’s leadership has brought YouthStat to New Haven and it has really, in my experience and knowledge, been cutting edge,” Steers said. “It mirrors, in many ways, the practice changes that we’re trying to bring to the department, and we’re very excited.”
Despite the reach of YouthStat and its constituent initiatives, Harp said that all costs remained within the original city budget.
Wright and other members of the fire department were active in the mentorship opportunities offered through the program, participating in door-to-door canvassing efforts to directly engage local youth, efforts that were supplemented by programs offering athletic avenues to participants.
He went a step further, offering his personal help to any child who feels in danger.
“I want everyone to know that a fire department is never closed, and if any kid is in danger or feels that he’s in harm’s way … we will have an open door for him and make sure that it is safe for him until we get the necessary help,” Wright said.
So far in 2014, there have been 11 fatal shootings, 46 non-fatal shootings and 133 shots fired in New Haven.