New Haven Mayor Toni Harp has a unique idea about how to strengthen the relationship between the city’s police officers and its residents: new iPhones.
In an effort to foster better communication and trust between the New Haven Police Department and the community, Harp has proposed providing department cell phones to officers in each of the city’s 10 management districts, an idea developed over the past year. The officers’ contact information would be distributed to residents, ideally making it easier to report crimes in the city, submit complaints and suggest tips. Still, the proposal remains in its early stages and details about logistics and funding have yet to be discussed, according to city spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
“Mayor Harp is committed to the idea of community policing, and the vision for that includes some time-honored components in terms of police officers walking a neighborhood beat,” Grotheer said. “This is the direction the mayor wants to see the city move: an increased use of modern technology with old-fashioned police strategies.”
The proposed plan would expand upon the NHPD’s existing technological resources, such as laptops in patrol vehicles and “shot spotter technology” that uses antennae to track the sound of gunfire, Grotheer said. Though the antennae have been used in a limited capacity in New Haven for several years, the city tripled the amount of coverage earlier this year, he added.
As of right now, the police commander in each of the city’s 10 management districts is already equipped with an iPhone used for this exact purpose, and the proposed initiative would put them into the hands of beat officers as well.
But because of questions of financing and logistics, Grotheer said, there is no existing time frame for implementing the new proposal.
“There are no cons, there are only pros and things that have to be worked out,” NHPD spokesman David Hartman said. “This is just a proposal at this point, and we’re not the ones who are going to be ultimate deciding factor on how it’s going to be funded and how or when it will be implemented.”
Hartman added that his only concern would be ensuring that officers are not working overtime by answering calls during their off-duty hours.
If the cell phones were to be deployed during the current fiscal year, the NHPD would have to find funding within its current operating budget, while the decision to distribute phones at the start of the next fiscal year, which starts July 2017, would necessitate that NHPD go through a budget request process starting this winter, Grotheer said.
Hartman, who currently has a city-issued cell phone for work-related matters, said an expansion of this system would facilitate more reliable communication between residents and officers. And Grotheer said the ability of Elm City residents to contact police officers patrolling their neighborhood, whether to report a crime or request a welfare check for an elderly neighbor, would build trust and strengthen these relationships.
Grotheer added that citizens would also have the option of texting and calling anonymously, a fact he said might encourage residents who don’t necessarily wish to be publicly seen informing an officer.
“This initiative was discussed … at the last class of the New Haven Police Citizen’s Academy, which I took this past summer,” Anstress Farwell, president of New Haven Urban Design League, said. “During our discussion, Acting [Police] Chief [Anthony] Campbell described the close relationships which can develop between older people and the police who check in with them, as well as with ex-felons, young people and their parents. These relationships are the heart of community policing.”
The city-issued cell phone system would not replace 911 in the event of an emergency. Instead, the system would promote beat officers as the point of contact for nonemergency situations, and there is likely to be a quicker response time by an officer who knows the family and the neighborhood, Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola said.
A phone call and a “quick jog around the block” is going to be faster than an officer driving across town to answer a call, Grotheer said, emphasizing the importance of efficiency in public safety.
“It is the mayor’s hope to expand [the cell phone system] so that city residents, business owners and shopkeepers feel comfortable calling the police officer on the beat in their neighborhood,” Grotheer said. “It’s about building relationships between community members and police officers.”
NHPD headquarters are located at 1 Union Ave.