Nat Kerman, Contributing Photographer

The city of New Haven and Connecticut Against Gun Violence on Friday announced that they have joined forces to establish a new Office of Violence Prevention. 

Officials unveiled the partnership at a press conference held at the New Haven Botanical Garden of Healing, a garden established by local volunteers to memorialize those who have lost their lives to gun violence. The new office aims to reduce the prevalence of gun violence in New Haven by introducing more community outreach, education and service programs to function in conjunction with policing.

“The overall goal of this office is to help the city provide a coordinated response to gun violence from the prevention side all the way to the aftercare side,” said Mehul Dalal, the city’s health and human services director.  

Dalal said that the city needed to identify those at risk and provide the support services and knowledge they need to escape the cycle of violence. He added that the recent uptick in gun violence was not a city-specific problem. Instead, recent data showed that there was “no part of the country that’s been spared” from gun violence, according to Dalal. 

The biggest obstacles will be whether the new office has the appropriate and sustainable resources it needs, he added. 

“If you want to talk about violence prevention professionals, they typically work on a grant-based cycle, so sometimes they get money, sometimes they don’t and then this program has to scale back and that’s just not a sustainable model for doing violence prevention and we tend to be reactive,” Dalal said.

Jeremy Stein, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, told listeners at the press conference that gun violence needed to be a “top priority” for the city. He added that the new office hoped to look for “community centric, evidenced-based solutions” to reducing violence in New Haven.

Stein said that since the 1970s, more than 700 people had died due to gun violence in New Haven. In 2021 alone, there have already been 22 homicides — a 38 percent increase in gun homicides from the last year and a 175 percent increase compared to 2019. According to Stein, there have been 264 confirmed shots fired in New Haven this year — an average of about one shot every day — and that gun violence has had a disproportionate effect on Black and brown communities. 

“Fifty-six percent of homicide victims are Black, five times the proportion in the population, and they experience 10 times the homicides, 15 times the gun assaults and 3 times the fatal shootings [than that] of white Americans,” Stein said. The Center for American Progress reported the 56 percent figure for Connecticut in November 2019.

Referring to the recent uptick in gun violence, Assistant New Haven Police Department chief Karl Jacobson said that there are many people who “are not sure if they’re gonna have jobs tomorrow,” and that anxiety may lead to conflict. He said that street outreach officers would reach out to those at risk of committing gun violence and help them locate services, since sometimes arrests or more violent measures are not effective or possible. 

Celeste Robinson-Fulcher, a mother and co-founder of the Botanical Garden of Healing, is from West Haven but her daughter died from a shooting in New Haven at a nightclub in 2013. 

“What’s going on with these kids, why do they pick up a gun, is it the power it represents, what are they missing to the point where they feel like the bigger the gun the bigger they are?” Robinson-Fulcher told the News after the event. “The obstacle is the justice system. If someone kills someone, why do they have the option to be out of prison?” 

The city of New Haven will be partnering with Project Longevity, Project Safe Neighborhoods and Connecticut Against Gun Violence to establish the new office.

LUKAS NEL