Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer
Beaver Hills, like most neighborhoods in New Haven, has experienced a decrease in overall crime over the past decade. However, it has experienced a slight uptick in violent crime and theft over the past month.
As of Oct. 11, data from the New Haven Police Department’s CompStat system has reported 18 confirmed shots fired in the district this year, as compared to just seven in 2019. According to New Haven city data, Beaver Hills is predominantly Black but has seen a growing Orthodox Jewish community over the past few years. Though there have been some religious-based attacks on the Orthodox Jewish community in the last few months, most of the recent crime appears to consist of random burglaries, break-ins and shootings unconnected to religion or race.
Nir Bongart has been a resident of Beaver Hills for 25 years. He told the News that he has seen an increase in crime in the neighborhood in the last two years, starting with car robberies, garage break-ins and drug deals. Bongart said he believes that the crime is coming from other areas and neighborhoods into Beaver Hills.
“In this area, they are all working people. They are all mid to upper class,” Bongart said. “Nobody [does] this kind of stuff over here. It is obviously coming from different neighborhoods. They are not going to the ‘hood’ to rob. They are going to the better area to rob people.”
In a public Zoom meeting last Wednesday with Mayor Justin Elicker, NHPD Chief Otoniel Reyes and Beaver Hill community members, city officials did not state that the crimes were being perpetrated by non-residents. The NHPD and Elicker did not respond to a request for comment.
Moti Sandman, another resident of the neighborhood and the president of the Congregation Chabad Lubavitch shul, was also present during the meeting. Sandman told the News that there were members of the community who were frustrated with the police’s poor response time and the response from the city. He said the meeting did not result in any tangible action items, though he acknowledged that having a conversation about the issue was important. Sandman said that Elicker, Reyes and NHPD Lieutenant John Healy had been accessible and responsive to community concerns.
“We were heard and we listened and I think that is extremely important,” Sandman said.
The day after the meeting, as he was riding his bike home in Beaver Hills, Bongart was attacked by four men who tried to rob him, he told the News. Bongart said he was hit in the back multiple times and received three or four kicks to the head. He was taken to the hospital and is now recovering, but stressed that the issue of violence in the neighborhood was serious. He said that he could “easily be dead.”
“I told the people,” Bongart said. “I said listen, you might call it attempting to rob. I call it attempting murder.”
While Bongart said that he believes his attack was a random one, he stated that some religiously motivated attacks have been targeting the neighborhood’s sizable Jewish population. According to the New Haven Independent, three Jewish people have been attacked by assailants who made reference to their religion.
According to Sandman, the Congregation Chabad Lubavitch has been broken into four times. Sandman said he believed it was the same perpetrator in all four incidents, based on the congregation’s video footage. However, Sandman said he does not think he would characterize the break-ins as religiously motivated, but rather done by a “petty criminal looking to score an easy score.”
But according to community leader Rev. Steven Cousin of Bethel A.M.E Church, the recent uptick in crime is due to the declining economic conditions of working-class residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You have people who are unemployed, about to lose their homes, and just struggling to put food on the table and make ends meet,” Cousin told the News. “When you’re dealing with impoverished areas, so to speak, crime is always going to increase when you don’t have the resources to provide for yourself and for your family.”
Cousin said that hiring more police officers to patrol the area would not deter crime, nor would it alleviate the root causes of crime in Beaver Hills. According to Cousin, the NHPD increased the number of officers in New Haven neighborhoods experiencing high rates of crime in 2011. He said this resulted in disproportionate arrests of Black residents, but no overall reduction in crime. At a 2016 U.S. Attorney-hosted justice forum, former NHPD Assistant Chief Achilles “Archie” Generoso apologized to the community for stopping “every person” on the street, saying the increased police presence did not decrease crime itself.
Cousin also said that Black community members should be at all community meetings about the issue. He added that there was not as much outreach to Black residents as the Orthodox Jewish residents by community members who organized last week’s meeting. Cousin stressed that this was not due to tensions between the Black and Orthodox Jewish communities, but due to separate social circles.
According to Bongart, Beaver Hills has started doing its own community watch. Community members have been patrolling the neighborhood in their own cars with flashing lights –– which Bongart said has helped to create a safer atmosphere. He said that there used to be people “selling drugs” in the “dark” parts of the neighborhood, and that they went away once the patrols started.
However, unlike Cousin, Bongart said he believes the long-term solution is to increase the police presence in the neighborhood. According to the New Haven Independent, the police department currently has 347 officers. This number is significantly lower than the 420 to 430 officers the department used to employ.
Despite the national issues surrounding policing, Bongart said that everyone in the neighborhood would feel safer with an increased police presence. He said he does not believe there are any religious or racial tensions in the community.
“In Beaver Hills, it is a mixed community,” Bongart said. “We have a lot of Jewish people. We have a lot of Black people. But we are all living together. We all meet each other, greet each other, know each other — it’s a nice area.”
State Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven, hosted a press conference at the Congregation Chabad Lubavitch on Wednesday.
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