New Haven names inaugural violence prevention coordinator
Mayor Justin Elicker appointed violence prevention advocate and former parole officer Reuel Parks to head the Violence Prevention Office.
Mia Cortés Castro, Contributing Photographer
During a press conference held at City Hall last Friday, Mayor Justin Elicker announced that the position of violence prevention coordinator — created in September 2021 as part of New Haven’s Department of Community Resilience — will now be filled by Reuel Parks. Parks is a longtime parole officer with the Connecticut Department of Correction and has also worked as clinical therapist.
Parks officially stepped into his role on Jan. 4. Expressing his excitement and gratitude, he said that his past experiences in law enforcement and community work will guide him as he assumes the position.
“I believe deeply that doing the work requires improving outcomes for these individuals and their families, and creating safer communities requires careful coordination of services to address these issues,” Parks said at the press conference announcing his hire. “The challenge that we are facing in our community and throughout the country can never be addressed just by one agency or one organization. It will take a resilient community.”
Parks’ main responsibility is to foster collaboration between the various agencies around New Haven working towards violence prevention. He has described his new role as being a “conductor conducting a symphony,” stating that collective efforts are what will make the city’s violence prevention programs succeed.
Learning from those he has encountered during his more than two decades working in the criminal justice system, Parks feels ready for the task at hand. He described an experience he had working with an individual who benefitted from the collaboration between agencies that his role will support, which he said sparked his “enthusiasm and drive” for the position.
“Over the course of the relationship, it was evident to me that he wanted to change, but did not know how or where to turn,” Parks said. “With the pressure of this collaborative approach of all of the providers he was set to work with, a plan was set in place that he was willing to try.”
While growing up in the Bronx, Parks said he experienced community violence firsthand, which has empowered him to make a change in New Haven.
Parks recalled being inspired to work in criminal justice by a professor he was taught by as an undergraduate at Southern Connecticut State University. He proceeded to get his bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminal justice and a master’s degree in social work from Springfield College.
Before his appointment as violence prevention coordinator, Parks had worked as a juvenile detention officer for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, a parole officer for the Connecticut Department of Corrections and a clinical therapist for both individuals and families. In 2014, he founded and then served as the technical director of Community Hands In Action Mentoring Program, or CHAMP. More recently, he has also served on the Hamden Board of Education since 2021.
Various organizations and departments in New Haven have been working together towards violence prevention under the city’s recently launched Program for Reintegration, Engagement, Safety and Support, or PRESS. The program, which includes the New Haven Police Department, the city’s Community Service Administration —where Parks’s office is housed — and local nonprofits, attempts to increase collaboration between these groups with the aim of reducing violence in New Haven.
Several members of the PRESS team who were present at Park’s introductory press conference praised his appointment to his new role.
Gwendolyn B. Williams, director of the Youth and Recreation Department, called Parks the “final piece of the puzzle for the services of violence prevention in New Haven.”
Leonard Jahad, who serves as executive director of the Connecticut Violence Intervention Program, echoed Williams’s praise, adding that he has been trying to get Parks to bring “his talent” from Bridgeport to New Haven for a while.
Now that he is finally in New Haven, Parks said he is looking forward to getting to know and work with the community.
“One of my first major goals is to make myself accessible to the community and acclimate to what’s happening here,” Parks told the News after the press conference. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in New Haven but a lot of social issues are very similar. I need to get to the table to hear what my community members are saying.”
Upon assuming his role, Parks will be working under Carlos Sosa-Lombardo, director of the Department of Community Resilience.