New Haven’s Project Longevity program has received national attention in recent years, including a mention by President Barack Obama in a speech last year on criminal justice. Now, the anti-gang violence program is on track to enhance its capabilities after a favorable vote from the Board of Alders’ Public Safety Committee Thursday night.
Meeting in City Hall, the alders preliminarily approved the acceptance of two state grants that will allow the New Haven Police Department to update its crime-analysis software system and provide $11,000 for the department’s crime analyst to work overtime. The department’s current analytic software is incompatible with systems used by the FBI and the state police, hindering the exchange of information between departments. Using the two grants, totaling $35,000, the NHPD will be able to create “hot spot maps” of areas with gang violence and better evaluate its anti-crime efforts, Assistant Chief Achilles Generoso told the committee.
Generoso said that Project Longevity, a program that emphasizes outreach as a means of combating gang violence, has been particularly successful — a recent Yale study, he said, found that the program has caused an average monthly decrease of 4.5 shooting incidents in the city.
“I think we’ve had a lot of successes with Project Longevity, so much so that other cities and other states are coming here to see how to do it,” he said, citing statistics that show a dramatic decrease in shootings since the city’s 2011 high-water mark. “I see it as a success … it’s one of the tools we’re using to reduce violence in the city.”
Project Longevity relies on collaboration with other police departments, both with those of surrounding towns and those of the state and federal government. Generoso said he meets with local police forces every morning to discuss the events of the previous day and prepare upcoming strategies.
At “call-ins,” the centerpiece of Project Longevity, the NHPD — in conjunction with state and federal forces — brings gang members together to warn them that any future violent actions will not be taken lightly.
“You call in gang members,” Generoso said. “What you tell them is basically that you have to put the guns down and you have to stop the violence — that if you don’t put the guns down, the next group that drops a body … will get the full, focused attention of law enforcement.”
But without the ability to link its software system to the FBI’s, Generoso said, the NHPD is unable to institute the most effective crime-reduction strategies. Using the new CrimeView Desktop software — the license for which will cost $16,467 over the next six months — the department will be better able to target gang violence, which accounted for seven of the city’s 15 homicides in 2015.
The Public Safety Committee was largely positive on the grants, which will come exclusively from the state, with no matching-fund requirement from the city. Beaver Hills Alder Brian Wingate, a former chair of the committee, said he supported the grants, though with some reservations about the tight deadline that the NHPD brought to the committee.
“I think it’s a no-brainer,” Wingate said. “I wish they would’ve come sooner for us to analyze what they were actually doing. I think it is a good program, and any time that you can get technology to support crime analysts and save lives, I’m in favor.”
Beaver Hills/Amity Alder Richard Furlow — who does not sit on the committee, but attended the meeting regardless — echoed Wingate’s “no-brainer” language, but said that he would have liked to see further substantiation for the $11,000 overtime figure for the analyst.
Some attendees questioned the NHPD’s approach to grants. Police Commissioner Kevin Diaz asked whether the department should be requisitioning funds for overtime instead of training new employees.
“We have this tendency that all these grants are great and they do a great job, but what happens when someone leaves?” he asked.
The possibility of the analyst in question — who makes roughly $35 per hour, according to Generoso — leaving in the near future is real. Generoso said the analyst is currently working toward her doctorate and expects to graduate from the program next year. Wingate said this reality should force the department to consider hiring a replacement in the coming year.
Fair Haven Heights Alder Barbara Constantinople expressed further skepticism. Noting that the grant will only last for six months, she questioned what the department would do after the money runs out.
“We do what we’re doing now,” Generoso replied. “We make do.”
Before the committee approved the grants by a unanimous vote, Quinnipiac Meadows Alder Gerald Antunes asked legislative aide Mickey Mercier to send a letter to the NHPD asking them to consider hiring a second analyst.