Though 78 percent of city employees have received COVID-19 vaccinations, only 65 percent of the New Haven Police Department was partially or fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, pulling down the city’s average.

The remaining 35 percent of the force must receive weekly testing, per a “test or vaccinate” mandate for city employees. There is 100 percent compliance with this policy, Mayor Justin Elicker said at a Wednesday press conference. Since the mandate’s implementation, 84 people have been newly vaccinated. At the press conference, which featured Elicker, NHPD Chief Renee Dominguez and Assistant Chief Karl Jacobson provided updates on law enforcement recruitment efforts and vaccination compliance numbers in the Elm City. Elicker told the News that there was particular difficulty in encouraging compliance among NHPD employees, but that outreach efforts had ultimately led to success. 

“It was a little bit more of a challenge getting people registered and to do the regular testing,” Elicker said. “Department heads proactively engaged with employees individually to encourage them to comply, and that hands-on approach helped us get compliance….I’m happy that we didn’t have to tell someone, ‘Don’t come to work.’”

The press conference began with updates on the progress of recent police force recruitment efforts in response to an officer shortage. Last Thursday, NHPD officials said that they were hoping for 1,000 more applications during the period.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Dominguez said that the targetthat target number had been reduced to 500. But with just over a week until the application deadline — which has been extended from Oct. 15 to 22 — Elicker said the department has still only received 330 applications.

“We did several recruiting canvasses last week,” Elicker said at the press conference. “I was out in the morning at the Hill knocking on doors, talking to a number of people that were interested in applying. It’s amazing how personal conversations can help people realize the opportunity that’s available there.” 

NHPD intensifying their efforts to crack down on violent crime

Dominguez said at the press conference that the NHPD has seized six guns within the past week and that two shots fired have been resolved with warrants for arrest. She pointed to these statistics as proof of the effectiveness of a larger effort by the NHPD to crack down on gun violence through confiscations, arrests and more vigorous investigation of gun-related cases.

“The individuals arrested potentially are perpetrators of future violence, and then also those guns that they’ve stolen have already been taken in a crime,” Dominguez said at the press conference. “We’re taking them off the street so the other people aren’t able to commit further crimes with those weapons.”

The department has dedicated increased energy to investigating cases of shots fired without a victim and has made expanding its shooting task force a top priority. It was this task force that resolved one of the two cases announced at Wednesday’s conference. 

Both Elicker and Dominguez spoke to the benefits of camera surveillance across the city as a tool for identifying perpetrators. In late September, Elicker announced an intention to place 500 more surveillance cameras around New Haven.

On Oct. 5, according to Dominguez, a 35-year-old man was spotted with a stolen gun at the intersection of Columbus Street and West Avenue before fleeing the scene and leaving the weapon behind. Through video footage from cameras in the area, officers identified the individual and were able to make the arrest, pressing charges for possession of the firearm. 

“I wanted to highlight that story because it underscores why having cameras is important to helping us make sure that we hold people accountable and make arrests where they are warranted,” Elicker said.

Another crime prevention method discussed at the press conference was the NHPD’s collaboration with Project Longevity, a local initiative dedicated to reducing gun violence through connecting at-risk individuals with community support and resources such as housing, employment and mental health services. 

Beyond these preventative services, Project Longevity still self-identifies as a law-enforcement initiative, closely linked to police department efforts. According to Project Longevity’s website, leaders attempt to convey to participants that if they continue to get involved with gang-based violence or homicide, they “will be met with the full force of the law.”

Dominguez said that a participant in Project Longevity was arrested on Oct. 9 after being caught with narcotics and an unlicensed gun in a stolen motor vehicle, soon after missing a “call-in,” or a check-in for the project. 

Jacobson added that the individual was being tracked through a GPS monitoring device placed on him by Project Longevity as a deterrent for criminal activity — this helped the officers in making the arrest.

“It’s a Project Longevity situation where we would have liked to give him services, but the enforcement end of Project Longevity actually worked in this way,” Jacobson said. “By monitoring him and keeping track of him we were able to get him in custody, get him with a gun, and now he’s safely off the streets.”

The headquarters of the New Haven Police Department are located at 1 Union Avenue.

SYLVAN LEBRUN
Sylvan Lebrun reports on City Hall. She previously covered nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College majoring in English.