Connecticut’s declining crime rates could be on the verge of dropping even further — the state was recently awarded over half a million dollars from the U.S. Department of Justice to tackle school violence.
Through the Department of Justice’s 2014 appropriations, the National Institute of Justice received roughly $15 million for the purpose of researching the causes of school violence and developing strategies to reduce crime in schools. To participate in the program, called the School Safety Initiative, states could apply for federal grants to conduct research aimed at lowering violence in public schools. Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management was awarded $566,104 to implement a program called “Effective School Staff Interactions with Students and Police.” This grant comes just days after Gov. Dannel Malloy announced that Connecticut crime rates dropped by 8.3 percent in 2013.
“It’s basically going to take a few sample schools and measure the interactions between students and police and figure out what we’re going to learn from that,” said Mike Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning at OPM.
The purpose of the research, Lawlor said, is to pinpoint methods of juvenile justice reform which significantly reduce crime and lower the number of shootings across the sate.
Although OPM has not yet selected the schools which will receive the grant money and participate in the study, New Haven Public Schools has already received around $15,000 this fiscal year in other federal grants that also seek to reduce juvenile violence, NHPS Communications Director Abbe Smith said in an email.
If NHPS does receive part of the OPM award, it will be used to improve security systems already in place, NHPS Chief Operating Officer Will Clark said. He added that local public schools have a history of collaborating with the NHPD to address school security.
“We have a strong infrastructure in place and a layer of technology to build support systems on top of that,” Clark said. This technology includes a recently installed security-camera system which uses the same “Milestone” video surveillance program as the NHPD 911 platform. This system provides first responders and local police direct access to public school security cameras, thereby streamlining communication between local police and schools, Clark said.
Clark said NHPS received a school security grant through the state last year, which was used to upgrade video camera systems in schools. He emphasized that improving school safety is an ongoing process and that NHPS is constantly looking to apply for district-wide or school-specific security grants.
New Haven’s work to improve school security is part of a larger statewide effort which has seen good outcomes, Lawlor said, noting that Connecticut is arguably the leading example of how to effectively reduce juvenile crime rates..
“In essence ,when dealing with younger kids, there’s a right way to do this and a wrong way to do this,” said Lawlor, adding that previous studies show a strong correlation between students acting out in school and ending up in adult prisons later in life.
Lawlor was optimistic that the new grant will help Connecticut continue to move towards lower rates of gun violence, citing current trends as an indicator of future improvement.
“The crime rate is way down, the number of kids getting sent to juvenile court is way down. Those are the kinds of numbers we look at to see how we’re doing,” said Lawlor.
A survey of Connecticut students in 2005 reported that 16 percent carried a weapon on one or more of the past 30 days.