New Haven saw just seven homicides in 2017, the city’s lowest total in half a century.

According to New Haven Police Department reports, last year’s number, down from 13 in 2016, represents a steep drop from the peak of 34 homicides in 2011, when the Elm City was plagued by gang violence. The number of nonfatal shooting victims and gunshots fired also declined by more than 50 percent over the same period, according to police statistics. Reports by the Connecticut State Police dating back to 1985 show last year’s number was the lowest on record, and Assistant Chief Achilles Generoso told the New Haven Register the city has not seen a lower homicide count in at least 50 years.

“[The decline in violence] didn’t happen by happenstance,” said Stacy Spell, New Haven program manager of the anti-violence group Project Longevity. “That happened through law enforcement working collaboratively together and … with communities.”

The NHPD postponed a request for interviews and the release of more extensive crime data from the News on the grounds that the mayor and the police chief will hold a joint press conference on this issue “in the near future,” according to spokesman David Hartman. Speaking with the Register in December, Generoso credited NHPD’s policing reforms and Project Longevity — a statewide initiative to reduce gang-related gun violence — with the recent decline.

In an interview with the News, Spell said that in addition to improving relations with local communities, NHPD has established daily meetings with police departments from neighboring towns to exchange information about crime suspects and tripled the number of shot spotters, devices that automatically detect and report gunfire, since 2011.

Founded in 2012, Project Longevity identifies people at risk of being involved in gang activities, launches interventions with their families and community leaders to dissuade them from  participating in gang violence and helps them find employment opportunities or training programs.

Another focus of Project Longevity is helping rebuild police legitimacy in communities. Recalling his experience as an NHPD detective, Spell said the police used to alienate communities in their investigations of gun violence by aggressively locking up people involved in petty offenses such as selling illegal liquor or driving unregistered vehicles. Through policing reforms and successful messaging, he said, law enforcement can restore trust and reduce violence.

“No one wants them arrested. No one wants to deprive them from their families,” Spell said. “We need them, the community needs them, and we need them to do better.”

A 2015 study by Yale researchers confirmed the efficacy of Project Longevity in reducing gun violence in New Haven between 2011 and 2014, when the number of homicides dropped from 34 to 13.

But one of the authors, Michael Sierra-Arévalo GRD ’18, a graduate student in sociology, cautioned that the conclusion cannot simply be extended to 2017 without further analysis. He also noted that the study may not fully appreciate the role of churches, community organizations and services providers.

“Those things are always working in the background and very difficult for us to control for statistical purposes, and we made that point very clearly,” he said.

Last year’s number placed New Haven’s homicide rate lower than that of many major cities in the Northeast, including Boston and Providence. It also occured as the homicide numbers at Bridgeport and Hartford more than doubled, from 10 to 23 and 14 to 29, respectively, according to the Hartford and Bridgeport police departments.

Spell noted that although Project Longevity has also been introduced in Bridgeport and Hartford, the reforms in their policing tactics are not as thorough as those adopted in New Haven. And according to Sierra-Arévalo, the presence of Yale may have created a stronger political will in New Haven to drive down crime rates, as the University exerts pressure and provides resources to keep its students safe.

New Haven’s crime rate has long been a lightning rod for controversies. The murder of Christian Prince ’93 on campus in 1991 made national news. In 2011, a widely publicized ranking by The Wall Street Journal named New Haven the fourth most dangerous city in the United States, drawing sharp criticism from city officials and local experts for failing to account for New Haven’s unusually small geographical area and large commuter population. In contrast, a 2010 analysis by CQ Press that accounted for these factors placed New Haven in the middle of 347 U.S. cities as the 168th most dangerous.

Since then, New Haven’s violent crime rate has declined by 45 percent, compared to an 11 percent decline nationwide, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Malcolm Tang |