In an attempt to revive their relationship with the New Haven Police Department, local block watch groups have been meeting with the department this month.
The block watches are informal groups of volunteers who patrol and oversee the safety of their neighborhood. Following staff changes within the NHPD over the past year, including the retirement of block watch coordinators, communications between the block watch volunteers and police officers has become disorganized and intermittent, according to block watch captains — residents in charge of their local block watch. Recent meetings between the two groups have served to revive the partnership, promote data sharing and spur interest in block watch within the New Haven community.
“The recent reconnecting with block watches on the Police Department’s end is in information sharing, crime analysis, specific crime locations and their frequency,” NHPD spokesperson David Hartman said in a Thursday email. “There is a renewed energy in information sharing between these groups and the officers in the groups’ patrol districts.”
The lapse in communications between block watches and the NHPD coincided with the retirement of two block watch coordinators within the police department last year, according to Leslie Radcliffe, a member of the Truman Street Block Watch Group.
Although the block watches are not supervised or organized by the police department, liaisons on the NHPD used to coordinate block watch meetings and serve as contact points for block watch captains. Because the NHPD chose not to replace the coordinators who retired last year, official communications between the NHPD and block watches ceased. For example, there are no longer monthly meetings where police officers and block watch groups discuss crime trends and exchange information.
Since the last meeting in March 2014, block watch captains have instead held their own meetings without the presence of police officers while continuing to work unofficially with their neighborhood’s NHPD sergeants and beat officers.
Jimmy Jones, the co-captain of block watch 331, said the lack of block watch coordinators within the police department has caused the relationship to become passive.
“In the past, there was someone in the department who would call regular meetings, and this gave us information and structure,” he said. “Now, there is ultimately someone we can contact within the department, but they are not as active in communicating.”
He added that beat officers move between neighborhoods so frequently that it is difficult to build lasting relationships with them.
Hartman, however, said the decentralization of communication might be more effective. He pointed to the department’s 10 district managers and beat officers, who are encouraged by the department to stay in contact with volunteers, as resources for block watches.
“The fault in the [previous liaison] relationship model was that the concerns [of] individual BWs were being vetted at an administration level,” he said. “It’s the neighborhood officers who need to hear these concerns as they’re the ones best suited to solve the problems.”
Nevertheless, he said that the NHPD has also assigned a sergeant as a point-person for groups to reach out to for general information.
Given the lack of agreement in the ideal communications methods, around 20 block watch captains, including Radcliffe and Jones, gathered with NHPD officers and chiefs on Jan. 2 to discuss how to reconnect volunteers with the department. While there has been no reversion to the liaison system, the NHPD has agreed to be more active in its distribution of flash sheets, police newsletters that contain data tables, maps and news clippings to interested volunteers, according to Hartman. The flash sheets are now easily accessible to those who request email copies.
Since the initial reconnection, block watch members have continued holding meetings without the NHPD, sparking renewed interest in volunteering within the neighborhood.
“Once we started to reconnect, the topic of block watch was brought back up in the community management meetings,” Radcliffe said. “This piqued the interests of individuals who want to join or form block watches. The meetings started to stir the pot up again.”