Sammy Westfall

When 13-year-old Marquell Banks was killed in 2011 as a result of gun violence, his cousin Daniel Hunt — a 22-year-old Hill neighborhood resident who works on the support staff at New Haven Public Schools — knew something had to change.

Hunt wanted to see a program that would engage with the youth of every neighborhood in New Haven and “bridge the gaps” between the police and the broader community. To address both those needs, Hunt conceived the idea of “community walks” — with Elm City residents and police officers walking alongside each other — in New Haven neighborhoods.

“[The police] are out here not just when something bad happens, but they’re out here to prevent crime and engage with the neighbors — to meet everyone,” Hunt told the News.

After discussing his idea with then-NHPD Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09, Hunt began organizing the walks in September 2017. Roughly every month, Hunt chooses a different Elm City neighborhood and invites residents and community organizations, as well as members of the New Haven Police Department, to participate in the walks. Hunt will host a stroll this Thursday in the Hill neighborhood. Newly appointed NHPD Police Chief Otoniel Reyes and NHPD officers are likely to join the walk, as well as members of the Hill community management team — a neighborhood team formed to exchange information and discuss local issues.

Hunt stressed that when residents observe police leadership taking time to engage with the neighborhood — passing out candy, crime prevention tips or even just their personal cell phone numbers — the community members feel heard.

NHPD officers in the Elm City have taken notice of Hunt’s efforts.

Martin Parker, a Yale Police Department officer and one of two dedicated YPD community engagement officers, said that Hunt’s walks have helped emphasize the value of face-to-face interactions with the community. He and YPD Community Engagement Officer Martha Cedeno-Ross joined Hunt on a walk in Newhallville in the spring and were able to visit residents’ homes and listen to their concerns.

“We are in a day and age where community members want and need the police department to show that they want to be a part of the community, they want to hear their concerns and the day to day quality of life issues of those we are serving,” Parker told the News.

NHPD spokesperson Shanyna Kendall called Hunt’s “level of intellect and strategy” to merge the gap in community and police relations “phenomenal.” Kendall praised Hunt’s efforts and ability to connect officers with community members.

“The community walks allow for the members of the rank and file to simply be present during nonviolent encounters just to offer support and vision,” Kendall said. “[Hunt] is bright and the community walks are not only the physical walk but rather the interactions.”

During his swearing-in ceremony as chief on Sept. 10 at City Hall, Reyes commended Hunt for his community efforts. In an interview with News, Hunt stressed that police-community relations still need to improve.

“I think it’s all about building trust, you have to understand how someone feels and treat them how you want to be treated in order to build relationships,” Hunt said.

Thursday’s community walk will begin at the Roberto Clemente School parking lot at 3 p.m.

Sammy Westfall | sammy.westfall@yale.edu