Last week my little sib’s laptop and wallet got stolen straight out of his common room. I don’t know whether it’s within my familial obligations to do anything except console him about it, so I don’t think it’s crossing a line to tell you the story. This is what happened: The suite door was propped open with someone’s shoe, Will was in his room with the door closed, and this guy walked in, grabbed what caught his fancy and strolled out. Will didn’t hear anything, and his roommate was asleep.
I found this flabbergasting. My suite is never locked, primarily because I lost my key in September, and I leave everything in the common room. I’ve never imagined this being a problem. And I’d figured that, worst-case scenario, if someone breaks — or rather, walks — in, I would be able to do something about it if I were in the suite. But I guess this isn’t actually the worst-case scenario. It’s like the guy didn’t even think about it, just felt like walking up some stairs in Bingham and maybe making a couple hundred bucks for his trip, #casual.
I think I’m particularly unsettled because at home, I don’t lock my doors and neither do any of my neighbors. I’d walk into friends’ houses when no one was home to pick up textbooks I’d forgotten, reach into neighbors’ gardens to pick tangerines off their trees, walk through parks alone at midnight at the age of thirteen. My town’s most prevalent crime is bike theft, and I never, ever, lock my bike. I am from Irvine, California, the safest city in America.
That said, I am — OK, I try to be — very conscious of being an Irvinian. There are horror stories of eighteen-year-old children, having never left Irvine in their lives, going off to college in Not Suburbia, USA and getting mugged in broad daylight because they were, like, sitting on the curb and counting their money while talking on their iPhone. I don’t want to be that girl.
There are also the stories we tell, which aren’t horror stories, but imply horrifying things about our upbringing. Like, “Oh my god, I was in Compton this weekend, and there was this black guy walking down the street. I thought I was gonna get mugged, I was so scared!” And the response: “Oh my god, that’s so scary, literally I’m never leaving Irvine, hahaha, I can’t handle the real world, hahaha.” Because it’s really funny to be trapped in a 66-square-mile bubble for your whole life.
As the proud possessors of the safest city title, we guard our position meticulously. Once, my neighbor saw one of her gardeners walking around on our street at night. To my knowledge, in the morning, nothing was missing, or broken, or tagged. The next day she organized a “street watch,” and suggested that we have the adults on the block take turns patrolling Perkins Court each night. Every single night.
It’s the little things like these that make me worry I grew up surrounded by psycho-paranoid adults with no concept of what true safety is. And because of that, I reckon, neither do I. When I decided to go to school in New Haven, of course the first thing my mom did was find a statistic labeling it “the most dangerous city in America.”Of course, I said, “That’s definitely not true and you just think that because we live in Irvine.” But upon arrival, I was made very aware that New Haven is not Irvine. Still, I was determined to prove the statistic’s untruth. I found the fact that campus is locked at night dumb and elitist; I refused to participate in discussions about being sketched out by the Green; I thought the existence of Yale Security was over the top and a little ridiculous. Honestly, the instance of the stolen wallet and computer doesn’t change these sentiments. These things happen, but they don’t mean that New Haven merits the title “most dangerous city in America.” Whether in Irvine or New Haven, there are certain precautions we all need to take in the real world — that’s what makes it real.
“All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This first line from Tolstoy’s immortal “Anna Karenina” is frequently on the mind and lips of the narrator of “The Dinner” by Herman Koch. “The Dinner,” published to international acclaim (and revulsion) in the Netherlands in 2009, has finally reached the States, and our calloused palates are now being challenged by its dry and acid taste. Not rich and delicious like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” (to which “The Dinner” is frequently compared), “The Dinner” is rather sour and unforgiving. Nevertheless, it is a delight and a necessity to read.
“The Dinner” is the story of two families, each unhappy in its own way. It is set in an offputtingly fancy Dutch restaurant, the kind of place in which it takes months to reserve a table. The diners are two couples: Paul and Claire Lohman, Serge and Babette Lohman. Paul is a retired high school teacher; Serge is a successful politician. The two are brothers. The two are enemies.
Paul and his wife Claire arrive first. The reader immediately finds sympathy with Paul’s longing to eat in the unassuming dive across the street. Paul is a lovable sort of misanthrope, critiquing everything from the food (“The first thing that struck you about Claire’s plate was the vast emptiness. Of course I’m well aware that, in the better restaurants, quality takes precedence over quantity, but you have voids and then you have voids”) to his brother. Serge is big, charismatic and gregarious — the sort of politician who would adopt an African child to further his political career (literally). His wife Babette, who arrives with red and blotchy eyes, fresh from crying, is quiet and subdued. Ever the political wife, though, Babette puts on a happy face.
As the diners traverse a pretentious five-course meal, from aperitif to digestif, any façade of happiness begins to fade. The four are there to discuss a family problem. Each family has a son, and both sons were involved in a disturbing crime. What should be done? How will it affect the boys’ lives? How will it affect their parents? How has it already affected their parents?
And why would two boys from good and wealthy families commit such a gruesome crime? One of the delights of “The Dinner” is that it makes you ponder, along with race and class and Dutch culture, the age-old question of nature versus nurture. Are the boys the products of middle-class angst or sociopathy born of privilege? Perhaps it is their genetics. But if it’s their genetics, their parents are not all that they seem.
The characters that we know and trust in the beginning of the novel, we grow to suspect and then fear by the end. This reversal, engineered by Paul, the least reliable of narrators, keeps the reader on the edge of his seat until the very end of the meal. Everyone has a past, a dark side, and by the time the characters are ready to order (only the fanciest) coffee, the truth is out on the table. The tastes, textures and secret spices of the novel’s final fruits are simply to die for.
Sometimes dismissed by reviewers as intentionally sickening, “The Dinner” rather makes one rethink how one would act in the worst of circumstances. It may seem sickening only because evil is sickening. It subtly tells us who is to blame when children go bad, and it also provides us with a solution to the worst of shared nightmares (even if its characters choose not to do the right thing). Short and enticing, “The Dinner” is easily swallowed but not easily digested. It’s the sort of novel that teaches you more than nonfiction, the sort of parable that leaves you examining yourself.
“The Dinner” has many messages — about race, xenophobia, class pretentions, the falsity of politics and the root of evil. Its overarching message is that evil could be right around the corner — or right across the dinner table. Genuine mental illness, ambition-driven craziness and mysterious malevolence all play a role in the novel. When Koch has the chance to reveal whether one “bad” character has a mental illness or not, he ultimately demurs and leaves the reader guessing. In the end, we must come to our own conclusions whether nature poisons nurture or if nurture corrupts nature.
“The Dinner” is a story of unhappy families. Only if Tom Riddle and Lady Macbeth got married and gave birth to Leopold and Loeb, could the Lohman family get any more screwed up. If “Life of Pi” is a book to make you believe in God, “The Dinner” is a book that will make you question basic human goodness. You will never look at your fellow diners the same way again.
On a warm February morning, Stephen Cremin-Endes received a call from Larry Burgess, who had gotten Stephen’s number from a friend. Cremin-Endes is the community-building specialist for Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS), a not-for-profit community housing developer in New Haven. Burgess was looking into the possibility of selling to NHS the house of his father, who had passed away last May. Stephen told him he would stop by the house, located at 278 Newhall St. in Newhallville, within the hour.
It was to be expected that the house, if not entirely dilapidated, would not be in great shape.
When the real estate bubble burst in 2007, the Newhallville neighborhood was hit hardest as the epicenter of the city’s foreclosure epidemic. Speculators began to use the neighborhood’s already devalued and dilapidated housing stock as a cash machine. But as the debt on the properties grew, houses were once again boarded up.
As with other vacated properties in the Newhallville area, people had broken into 278 Newhall to steal aluminum, furnaces, copper piping and toilet plumbing. In an effort to prevent further theft, Burgess had boarded up a door in the back with some nails and spare plywood. Walls were peeling; flooring exposed; ceilings decaying. Though one of his brothers hopes to keep the house, Larry says he doesn’t have the proper funds to maintain it. This is where Cremin-Endes and the NHS team come in.
The agency rehabilitates old houses like Burgess’ to sell to new lower and middle-class homeowners. But unlike the risky refinancing efforts of speculators or the superficial refurbishing touches of slumlords, NHS reinvests in the neighborhood’s already existing housing stock. About four years ago, NHS set its sights on targeting critical areas like Newhallville. Despite their experience renovating and selling over 250 houses since 1979, improving the neighborhood has been no easy task. “We have to make sure investors don’t use houses like Monopoly board rent-collecting,” said Peter Crumlish, director of development for NHS. In addition to having the city’s highest foreclosure rate, the neighborhood has had the city’s highest unemployment rate, lowest performing school district and record-breaking crime rate.
In 2007, threats from a nearby bar prompted a resident to quickly flee her house developed by the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity at 526 Winchester St. Due to further safety concerns, Habitat’s local chapter soon put the rest of its plans for the neighborhood on hold. NHS Director Jim Paley soon realized that developing Newhallville one house at a time wouldn’t change anything. A house-by-house remedy would be akin, at best, to putting a Band-Aid on a gaping bullet hole.
“The Habitat for Humanity house on Winchester was a perfectly wonderful house and family but if you’re left out there isolated on an island, what can really happen?” explained Bridgette Russell, the director of the Home Ownership Center at NHS. “At the time, it was almost imperative that anything done was done in the right way because you had to do it in a stabilizing way.”
To stabilize Newhallville, NHS pioneered a strategy called the “cluster approach” that buys and renovates groups of contiguous houses simultaneously. These clusters of development can improve the appearance and raise the property values of entire blocks and streets. Community leader and resident Tammy Chapman moved into one of the three houses in the first cluster in Newhallville, at Winchester and Highland, in December 2011. “The cluster program allows you to put your arms out,” she said, “and touch your neighbors on both sides.”
But for a long time, nobody reached out at all. Though the housing stock once was designed for socializing, with porches for waving and talking, people had retreated indoors as conditions outside worsened.
* * *
In 1870, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company established its permanent industrial campus — acres and acres of plant floor two miles northwest from Yale. Nurtured by the strong arms of the Winchester Factory and its suppliers, the surrounding neighborhood of Dixwell-Newhallville had prospered from a wellspring of stable employment and decent wages for its residents.
Eva Smith, who’s lived a block up from the Winchester Factory since 1956, remembers a time when people in Newhallville had jobs at the factory. Smith remembers hearing as a child the loud ringing of the lunchtime bell calling Winchester’s employees back to work from her living room. She remembers living in a flourishing working class town made up of Italians, African Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics with mixed incomes. She remembers a time when the factory — located at the intersection of Winchester and Munson — looked like a factory.
What remains of the factory today is series of two, four and five-story buildings filled with whatever refuse has not been sacked by squatters and skateboarders: shells, casings, old boxes. Bright greenery crawls over soot stained bricks and shuttered windows down into the twisted barbed wire fence that surrounds its perimeter.
Though Winchester’s closing is not the root cause of woe in Dixwell-Newhallville, its demise left an open sore from which the neighborhood has yet to fully recover. Many sections of the Newhallville neighborhood’s properties are not much better off. When the small fraction of the still operative factory closed down in 2006, its staff (including Burgess’ father) consisted of fewer than 200 workers.
Not long after the factory reduced its operations, Smith watched her street disappear. From her porch on Winchester where she sat on most days, Smith pointed to a string of small businesses — a drugstore, a Laundromat, a bar — and farther up the street — a donut shop, a shoe shop and a Greek restaurant. Where, with a little imagination, she could bring the street back to life, I saw only what was left: some nice houses, some burned houses, boarded-up buildings and empty grass lots. In what was now a totally vacant apartment building across from her house, I tried to picture the grocery store and grocer who once lived upstairs, and I failed. But NHS sees something else.
If NHS were to purchase Burgess’ house, it would rebuild the interior while preserving undamaged historical details like its old sturdy green door. In addition to restoring historical fabric, NHS also hopes to revive the sense of community Newhallville once had.
* * *
En route to visit Burgess’ house on Newhall Street, Cremin-Endes drove past West Division Street in his blue Subaru. The street, once blighted, is now unrecognizable. NHS’ concentrated efforts in the area have rehabilitated four of the street’s seven houses. All houses are LEED-certified energy efficient (saving their owners from more expensive bills in the long term). NHS’ cluster strategy extends to houses it does not own: NHS has painted three other houses on West Division and added streetlights throughout.
Right after he passed by NHS’ own work on West Division Street, Cremin-Endes pulled over at Newhall and Huntington next to a house in need of grave repair with green tiling, rusty fences over the door and broken fallen flooring. (Graffiti on the wall read: “To all you stink ass bitches …”). Cremin-Endes greeted the current landlord, who seemed to be making only minimal repairs, and offered to buy the house on behalf of NHS. The landlord seemed uninterested in the offer. But it is important for NHS’ efforts to raise property values in the neighborhood that rundown houses don’t stay rundown, no matter whose hands renovate them. So, Cremin-Endes made another offer: “If you do a nice job, I can get 20 volunteers — and I don’t do this often — but I can get 20 volunteers to help you clean out.”
“I asked the city to help me,” the landlord responded. “I’m not bringing anything down. They bring themselves down every day. You get one or two houses but you can’t do anything. Let’s be realistic, what are you going to get on this housing?” The answer, in terms of community building instead of profit, is a lot.
Cremin-Endes, who has gained national recognition for his work in Newhallville, explained that the agency someday hopes to connect all of these micro-neighborhoods to form a “critical mass” of stability. A bird’s-eye-view map of Newhallville in his office marks properties acquired and to be acquired. But one nice house does not a good neighborhood make. For this reason, NHS is currently developing and planning multiple clusters at once.
The ultimate goal, Cremin-Endes said, is “to bring back neighborhoods to what they were many years ago: desirable neighborhoods of choice for families.” Boxes of flowers in windowsills have improved appearances, and, in turn, morale. Shoveled snow is a small but sure sign of a house’s self-care. And better lighting on streets has led to marked reductions in crime.
Neighborhood leaders are making efforts to light up every street in Newhallville with LED lighting by the end of this year. NHS has recently partnered with about 10 churches and other social service agencies in the area as part of the Promised Land Initiative. The Promised Land Initiative has pledged to fix 10 blocks in Newhallville hit hardest by high crime and abandoned houses for the last two decades. “We thought because they were already renovating houses it would be a good partnership for collaboration,” said Pastor Donald Morris, the executive director of Newhallville’s Christian Community Commission — a nonprofit outreach organization, and one of the leaders of the Promised Land Initiative.
The Initiative’s team has also helped train residents to become more proactive in the neighborhood’s community policing efforts and safety meetings. “The police department and local churches have all joined forces to make this a collaborative role model neighborhood for change,” Morris added.
Yet while the streetlights improve both safety and aesthetics, if nothing else is done to solidify these changes then crime can start to creep up all over again. Community organizing and homeowner leadership have helped to reinforce these changes. The Solar Youth after school program keep kids busy after school; Chapman has also been organizing community walks to promote health and resident visibility. Studies have shown, Chapman says, that communities that exercise together have lower crime rates. Newhallville now boasts the highest concentration of community gardens in New Haven.
When Chapman’s neighbors were going to move out of the neighborhood, she convinced them to stay by pointing to these catalytic changes.
“There is a direct causal impact on how people who might have been reluctant to view a house for purchase change their mind after seeing change on the block or street,” NHS Development Director Bridgette Russell said. “There’s a positive impact for those already living in a community on both an ownership level and investment level. When you see other changes taking place, it spurs you on.”
Last year Russell invited NHS homeowner-to-be Vinita Mullings to attend a community leadership conference in Orlando, Florida. Mullings felt inspired by the confidence of other community leaders across the country. “It was great just to meet different people,” she said. Since that trip, she has been working on an initiative to build an educational greenhouse in the community garden across from Lincoln-Bassett School. This spring she’ll be moving from Hamden into a house on Winchester and Cave. Accented with purple paint, her new spacious two-family house — she’ll be leasing to a tenant on the first floor — will have a mortgage lower than what her rent had been. “I’m thinking about a boxed garden in my yard,” she said, adding that she was hoping to start a garden club.
“I think this is a replicable model in terms of what can be done,” Russell added, “because when I talk to other residents in Newhallville they’re excited about the positive things that are on the horizon; there’s a lot of positive energy there.”
* * *
At last October’s annual meeting of the Neighborhood Housing Services, employees, trustees and new homeowners gathered to celebrate and share the year’s accomplishments over hot wood-fire pizza. NHS’ architects were the bartenders, everybody was kindly praising somebody else’s work, and the NHS office campus, built as a series of small houses, flowed with voices and good news.
NHS tries to prepare first-time buyers to be responsible owners with classes and foreclosure mitigation assistance. “This is about the long-term,” Cremin-Endes told me. “Not just ribbon-cutting.” NHS is willing to work with new owners for as long as it takes for them to get off their feet — sometimes for years.
Joseph Adjei, a father of five and a new home buyer, talked about how taken care of he felt by this ‘all-things-considered’ approach. “I can talk to them. It is not like buying and selling,” he said. “They care about the people who live in the houses. It makes me comfortable.”
As the annual meeting’s party gathered into a white plastic tent, rain came down in longer and longer streaks outside. Chapman and her husband James spoke to the crowd on behalf of their cluster about their experiences. “We are really looking forward to reclaiming our neighborhood,” she continued. “It has suffered so many years of neglect.” Of Adjei, Chapman said that he “feels like a king in his home, so thank you, NHS, for making him a castle.”
Since moving to Newhallville, Chapman has gotten involved with many of the initiatives to beautify and form a community. “They make it so you feel that you’re part of something,” she said. “They call you and get you involved with meetings and initiatives and you’re always encouraged to do your own initiatives.” Her blog, “Newhallville. Community. Matters.”, reads as an archive of the community’s collective building efforts.
When Chapman talked to me about her community involvement, she also talked about its communal history. “I think it’s kind of unusual for a neighborhood to have multigenerational families, families that have been here when things were really rough and really bad,” she said. “All you could do was go into your house, through the back door, shut the shades, and never talk to anybody.” She says that street cleanups get people out of their houses and talking to each other. Now that the weather is warming, she’s hoping to organize street cleanups once a month from March through October.
“When I try to explain this to people, I say that I can connect with my neighbors more readily than other neighborhoods in New Haven because it has always been a community,” Chapman said. “The cluster did not create a community. People have kind of forgotten it throughout the years. The bones are there. We have our challenges but we’re invested.”
Across the street from Payne Whitney Gym, a middle-aged Indian man worked the convenience store counter at a Shell gas station. The door was locked for the night. Customers lined up at the cash booth, where Vinay Kumar gave them their purchases through a slit in the glass.
Kumar has been working at the station for four years now. When asked whether he thought the surrounding neighborhood is safe, he chuckled, gesturing to the area near Ezra Stiles and Morse colleges.
“That part is safe,” Kumar said in his clipped accent. Then he pointed to houses behind the station, toward Dixwell Avenue: “That part — no, dangerous.”
A police cruiser was sitting in the gas station’s parking lot. The officer on duty, Richard Gonzalez, arrived in New Haven from New York City five years ago. Gonzalez said he relished the “challenge” New Haven offers.
“This city’s home to every little neighborhood gang you can think of,” Gonzalez remarked. “Crips, Bloods and wannabes.”
Gonzalez works the beat around Whalley Avenue every day from midnight to 7 a.m. He warned against straying any farther than the gas station. As he said, the chances of encountering violent crime increase as someone travels away from Yale and the downtown core. Theft is common around campus, but gang violence and assault occur more frequently around peripheral neighborhoods, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez’s words echo a notion shared by many residents, Yale students and locals alike: New Haven is more a collection of distinct neighborhoods than a unified city. Both the type of crime and the rate of its occurrence vary sharply from one street to the another, from one corner to the next.
Apart from the all-encompassing issue of economic inequality, it is impossible to ignore the impact of the architectural environment on crime. An examination of New Haven’s physical structures and urban layout presents a new way to look at criminal activity in the city and offers an alternative perspective on possible solutions.
CODE OF THE STREET
Past Payne Whitney Gym, Yale’s neo-Gothic stylings and the city’s bustling restaurant scene give way to dense residential areas blocked off from the wider street with tall brick walls. Yale students are made aware of incidents of theft and assault through regular emails from Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins; however, gang violence remains largely outside of the Yale experience.
“Yale provides a pretty good safety net,” Orit Abrahim ’15 said.
Last month, the New Haven Police Department announced that the city’s homicide rate dropped by 50 percent from 2011 to 2012, reaching a three-year low of 17 homicides. At around the same time, DataHaven — a nonprofit organization that compiles public information for the New Haven Greater Area — published a map identifying the distribution of murder incidents across the city. The map highlighted the differences in safety between neighborhoods like Dixwell and Newhallville, and the communities surrounding East Rock, a location inhabited by many professors and graduate students.
“Crime rates can vary tremendously from block to block,” said DataHaven Executive Director Mark Abraham ’04.
While most sections of the city reported crime rates close to the statewide average, some of the crime hot spots in the Elm City include lower-income neighborhoods, with murders and violent crime concentrating in locations where late-night retail stores are open, where alcohol is served or where drugs are sold illegally, Abraham said.
Between 2005 and 2012, New Haven saw a total of 155 homicides, or nearly 20 per year, according to the statistics released by DataHaven. Roughly 85 percent of the homicides were reported to occur in only one-third of Elm City’s neighborhoods. All of the neighborhoods that have been impacted by two or more homicides in the past seven years are predominantly African-American like Newhallville, or Hispanic like Fair Haven.
Sociological studies have suggested that this disparity can be traced back to racial segregation, high unemployment and other problems besetting black and Hispanic communities across the nation.
In his 1999 book “Code of the Street,” sociology professor and urban ethnographer Elijah Anderson researched the black ghetto community in northern Philadelphia, Penn. The neighborhood is ridden with unemployment, social inequality and racial exclusion, which often resulted in crime rates similar to those registered in New Haven.
“I have studied Philadelphia specifically, but I believe that the same factors might be involved here in New Haven,” Anderson said.
Starting in the late 1960s, he explained, local manufacturers and factories began to close down and jobs were moved to non-metropolitan areas, then to Mexico, China and other developing countries. As more and more New Haven residents remained unemployed, they resorted to new means of self-preservation and moneymaking that have profoundly changed the urban environment: begging, drug-trading and street crime.
“Poverty and unemployment lead to desperation, and desperation can make a good man go wrong,” Anderson said.
In addition to racial segregation, failure to properly reintegrate ex-offenders into mainstream society has also had a large impact on the high crime rates among minorities, said Abraham. Specifically, he added, three-quarters of the African-American men involved in homicides in the past seven years had been convicted of prior felonies.
But some Yale students interviewed said linking high crimes rates to certain ethnic communities creates exaggerated fears in the general population, increasing the stigma that racial minorities already face.
“I don’t feel unsafe in New Haven — because I’m not afraid of people of color,” Christofer Rodelo ’15 said.
Wooster Square hosts some of New Haven’s most frequented locales: Frank Pepe’s renowned pizza restaurant and the Saturday morning farmer’s market, which features a weekly range of gastronomic delights for the locally minded consumer.
But behind a long wooden fence lives the rest of the Wooster community, where public housing serves as home to some of the city’s most impoverished citizens. The idyllic marketplace environment is maintained by the physical division along Highway 91, which obscures from view a starkly different portrait of New Haven.
“There are exceptions to this, but New Haven is a segregated city,” urban design professor Elihu Rubin said. “It is a city of enclaves and neighborhoods.”
Intercity divisions have also been the focus of the NHPD in their effort to keep crime down. When the homicide rate reached a 17-year-high of 34 homicides in 2011, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced the appointment of Dean Esserman as New Haven’s new police chief. A former NHPD assistant chief from 1991 to 1993, Esserman wasted no time: After taking the helm of the city’s Police
Department in November 2011, Esserman spearheaded a return to community policing — a strategy that moves officers away from their desks and puts them on walking patrols of the streets.
“People talk to us: They might not talk to the 911 operator, but it’s amazing how they reach out to their police officers,” Esserman said.
As police officers roam New Haven neighborhoods and interact with residents, this community-oriented policing strategy aims to increase police visibility, build trust with community residents and deter criminal activities, said City Hall spokeswoman Anna Mariotti.
As the Police Department plans to ramp up its manpower with 100 new hires over the next two years, Esserman’s policing philosophy seems to have borne fruit: New Haven saw only 17 homicides in 2012, the lowest homicide rate since 2009, when 13 homicides were reported to have occurred in the city.
“Literally hundreds of family members and neighbors were affected by that carnage,” DeStefano said at a press conference in January.
“Clearly, we were off track from where we needed to be. The community knew it, and we all wanted to reset our expectations.”
But some people are not as optimistic about last year’s crime drop. Abraham from DataHaven said that it is not possible to establish a pattern within one single year, because of the uneven distribution of homicides from month to month.
“If you look at the past decade, you’ll see many months with no homicides, and others that recorded a homicide every week — for that reason, I wouldn’t base conclusions on one year of data,” Abraham said.
There is reason to be skeptical about the effectiveness of community policing in its ability to reach out to disenfranchised community members. Dixwell resident Sajib Mitchell, 23, said he does not feel comfortable approaching police officers for help. He has witnessed incidents of gun violence around his home, and many of his former middle school classmates are now in prison under drug charges.
“There is a lack of support for youth from the older generation,” Mitchell said.
Sociology professor Andrew Papachristos said gang violence in New Haven is localized. Disputes occur within parameters as small as one street or intersection. This is in contrast to violent crime in other major cities such as Chicago, where gang activity is spread out geographically, making it more difficult to pinpoint certain areas in which it is more prevalent.
Many of the city’s small, localized gangs are inspired by larger and more infamous gangs. Papachristos said one group refers to itself as the “Grape St. Crips,” after the prominent gang in Los Angeles. Dixwell, Newhallville, Kensington Street and a housing block known as the “Jungle” — situated, ironically, across from the New Haven police station — are regarded as hotbeds for violent activity.
Kristina Zallinger, 66, is a painter who has lived in and around New Haven for much of her life. Of intercity divisions, she said, “I don’t think things are ever going to change — the poor are going to live in the center and somewhat on the outskirts of the city, and there will be richer residences down Whitney Avenue and into the areas off Orange Street.”
Zallinger attributed gentrification in the downtown area to efforts made by Yale to, as she put it, “get rid of the poor.” She pointed out that when the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven was constructed, homes were torn down to make room for the new care center. She expressed worry that such developments left the city’s poorer residents in dire straits.
“The more that happens, the more we’re pushing out the poor because they have nowhere else to go,” Zallinger remarked. “They live in New Haven, and that’s what they’re used to.”
Papachristos said that violent crime occurs primarily in regions that lack “eyes on the street” — storefronts, parks and other locales where residents can be engaged in the community and monitor one another’s behavior.
Located just northwest of the downtown area, the central parts of the Dixwell community saw five to seven homicides per block group between the years 2005 and 2011. Walking along Dixwell Avenue, the markers of disrepair are clear: boarded-up storefronts stand alongside dilapidated apartment buildings, their aging frames obscured by fences all around. A man sits on the front steps of the Hannah Gray Senior Home at the corner of Dixwell and Charles streets, waiting for a ride.
When asked whether he feels safe where he lives, the man shakes his head. He points at a plaza along the block: “There were a few killings there last year.”
Since being robbed at Dixwell Mini Mart last year, he has stopped going grocery shopping in the neighborhood. He added that he rarely goes out at night, as there is little outdoor lighting along the street.
Back on campus, students worry about other types of crime, namely “apple-picking”: the crime wave targeting Apple products across the nation.
The contrast between crime in different parts of the city can be partly explained by Oscar Newman’s “defensible space theory,” Papachristos said. Defensible space theory is the notion that the physical characteristics of a residential environment can allow inhabitants to ensure their own safety.
For example, Papachristos said, high-rise public housing complexes tend to foster gang violence because of their compact nature, which allows prospective criminals an easily accessible view into the lives of their neighbors. The debate over the “high rise, high crime” theory is an ongoing one, with crime experts and architects alike speculating over whether the crimes occur as a result of the built environment, or if they are merely symptoms of pre-existing problems.
Before Zallinger moved into her current subsidized housing complex on Dixwell Avenue a year ago, she lived for eight years in a high-rise building on the corner of Audubon and Orange streets called the Charles T. McQueeney Apartments.
“It’s full of drugs, full of prostitution, full of everything you can imagine,” Zallinger recalled. “The 10th floor was the drug floor, and even though they let a police officer live in the building for free, he didn’t do a damn thing.”
She said that while she tried to advocate for improvements on the building, it was difficult to implement changes. When she first moved in, the landlords conducted drug tests and background checks on prospective residents, but those practices have long ended.
“It’s a microcosm of the city,” Zallinger said, adding that she “couldn’t wait to get out.”
In considering the effects of urban planning on crime, Rubin noted that it is important to remember the simple steps, such as added street lighting, that can be taken toward crafting a safer streetscape.
“Active streets are safer streets,” he added. “Architecture can help, but it’s not the only answer. Well-maintained buildings and attractive spaces can support an active and peaceable life of the street.”
According to Abraham, spaces like parks, community gardens and public plazas can cause dramatic reductions in crime, as they provide a place for neighbors to meet and build the “informal social networks that are needed to keep crime under control.”
Architectural elements can also be important instruments in the fight against street crime, as shown in an interactive website launched in January by the UK Association of Chief Police Officers. The website is part of the Secured by Design program, a flagship initiative which focuses on crime prevention of homes and commercial premises through the use of security solutions, such as well-designed walking routes, adequate lighting and windows overlooking the street. According to the UK Association of Chief Police Officers, these principles have been proven to reduce burglary and crime by up to 75 percent.
“There is evidence that these features improve residents’ perception of neighborhood safety, even if they do not cause actual crime reductions in and of themselves,” Abraham noted, adding that New Haven urban planners have sometimes ignored many of the architectural solutions listed on the website.
Today, at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, infrastructure design, safety and security experts will convene to address the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission on how improvements to urban planning can help prevent gun crime. Randall Luther, a partner at Tai Sook Kim Partners architecture firm, who will be speaking before the panel, said some safety disparities may be attributed to zoning.
Luther explained that while there are many businesses in downtown Hartford, the lack of residential spaces means that the area is nearly empty at night. New Haven is fortunate, Luther said, because Yale’s presence creates a critical mass of activity at the center of the city.
It is not surprising, then, that most of the good urban planning is to be found in the downtown area. Looking back to when he lived in New Haven a few years ago, Luther noted that at the corner of Audubon Street and Whitney Avenue, close to where the current Undergraduate Career Services center is located, the buildings house storefronts on the first floor and housing above. Likewise, the areas immediately around the southern edge of the Green boast a fair amount of activity thanks to the array of restaurants and their proximity to Yale, Luther said.
“You need a certain critical mass of people,” Luther said. “Once you get below that number, things start to get a little dicey.”
Luther observed that attracting activity to certain parts of the city has to do with reaching a tipping point: “The hard part is, how do you get started? Who’s the first person to open a restaurant or a business in an area that’s not so good? It’s hard to be the first one to go out there and stick around until other people follow you.”
Abraham said vacant buildings and empty lots are often home to violent crime incidents. New housing and commercial developments, he added, can lessen criminal activities, as studies have suggested that people tend to walk more frequently in neighborhoods teeming with businesses and residences.
“New development is a great way to fill in these gaps in the urban fabric,” Abraham said. “It can reduce crime by eliminating vacant lots, as well as add more resources to a neighborhood by creating more places to walk.”
2:17 P.M., DIXWELL AVENUE
Farther down Dixwell Avenue, an open convenience store blended into the procession of closed, bedraggled storefronts on the street. Inside Dixwell Mini Mart, a young man was working behind the counter. When a group of young people wearing black jackets and baseball caps walked inside, the shopkeeper turned silent.
“We can’t talk,” he stuttered.
The men were laughing about an incident from the night before. “I walked right past the cop,” one of them said. Another retorted,
“They say you can’t be carrying dangerous weapons — I was carrying a baseball bat coming home from practice.”
Beside him, a thin man was slumped against the wall: “Yeah, they said I had a revolver.”
Moving away from Yale’s ivory-tower campus and towards the vacant buildings and empty lots of impoverished Elm City neighborhoods, gaps in the urban fabric are often filled by gangs of teens and criminals that respect no rule but what sociology professor Anderson calls “the code of the street.”
“People [in these neighborhoods] feel like they are on their own,” Anderson said. “Street credibility then becomes the most important thing in a community.”
The need for increased resources on a large scale — in terms of employment, education and health care — is clear, but the city cannot overlook the architectural and urban design changes that can be crucial in the ongoing fight against crime. An additional effort to enliven the cityscape can serve to shatter the separations, both physical and sociological, that obstruct safety in each community.
It can be as simple as putting a streetlight on the corner.
The Yale community may soon receive another message from Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins after a Wednesday night theft attempt broke out just hours after Higgins released an afternoon safety advisory on iPhone theft.
Dubbed “apple picking,” the new phenomenon has been on the rise as thieves target iPhone users for robbery attempts. But the trend struck a bit closer to home on Wednesday after a teenager snatched a woman’s iPhone out of her hand at the corner of Chapel and High streets shortly before 9 p.m. The perpetrator then ran from the scene toward York Street as the victim alerted the police, who later apprehended the thief outside York Street parking garage.
A passerby described the perpetrator as male and African-American, and estimated that he was between 15 and 17 years old. The witness added that the boy was not immediately pursued by the victim, though he said two other witnesses to the theft did give chase. By the time the boy reached York Street, the passerby said police cars were already arriving from both sides.
The cops were then able to catch the boy — who did not resist — and arrest him.
Yale Police Sergeant Keith Pullen said they currently have no information on the perpetrator’s or victim’s identities, adding that the perpetrator has not yet been formally charged. Pullen said the victim did not suffer any injuries and no weapons were displayed.
The incident added weight to Higgins’ cautionary advice to Yalies warning them to “be aware” of their surroundings when talking or texting.
“Displaying a phone is the same as displaying cash to a thief,” Higgins wrote.
The Yale Police Department has recently recovered several iPhones and iPads that had been stolen from their owners, Higgins said in his email.
Late Sunday evening, Yale Police arrested a man and a woman suspected of breaking into Berkeley Entryway I and stealing students’ possessions.
More details about exactly what happened Sunday night emerged through the day on Monday. The suite targeted is home to Zana Davey ’15, who said her suitemate propped the door open for a few minutes to go to the bathroom. In that time, Davey said, the two intruders snagged iPods, wallets, phones and a laptop.
It wasn’t until police officers came knocking two minutes later that Davey or her suitemates noticed the items were missing, she said.
Another student living in the entryway, Justin Stewart ’15, found the intruders suspicious and called the police.
“Thankfully, we never had a moment of panic, because we didn’t know anything was missing until the police officers knocked on our suite and told us,” Davey said. “But it feels violating.”
Indeed, Stewart said he watched the hooded man and woman follow someone into the North Court before they attempted to follow him into the entryway. After Stewart slammed the door shut, he said he called the police immediately.
“It was surprising to me how easy it was for them to get into the building, and almost leave with people’s stuff without getting caught,” Stewart said.
In a Monday email to the Berkeley community, Master Marvin Chun thanked Stewart for his “smart thinking” and asked students to take more precautions for their safety — including locking all suite and bathroom doors and asking strangers to show Yale ID cards before letting them into entryways.
“Berkeley is a wonderful and caring community, but we all have to remember that this community is located in a city,” he wrote in the email. “We are the front line of protection for each other.”
Students have reported seeing a similar pair around Berkeley before. Aaminah Qadir ’14 saw a man and woman standing outside entryway H wearing gray track suits, and the two asked her to be let in, looking for “Ellie.”
“I wasn’t sure if there was an Ellie living in our entryway, but I knew by that point they were lying. So I stepped upward on the staircase, and I said ‘No Ellie lives here,’” she said. “And they looked at each other and looked really scared, and they just bolted.”
Qadir reported the incident to the police, and Chun mentioned it in a weekly newsletter to the college.
A man and woman were arrested in Berkeley North Court Sunday evening after allegedly breaking into entryway I and stealing from a student dorm room.
Members of a suite on the third floor had left the door propped open, and the two man and woman allegedly took advantage, stealing iPods, phones, wallets and a laptop. As the man and woman left the scene via entryway I, police showed up, already alerted that two individuals were lurking in the area and trying to get into North Court, a Yale police officer at the scene said. The pair were in possession of the valuables when they were arrested. Nine police cars eventually surrounded the area, and the two suspects were questioned separately.
The alleged robberies follow an incident earlier in the evening, when the Yale Police Department responded to an assault at Temple and George Streets in which the victim had been knocked down and unconscious. The description of the suspects in this attack — a tall man in a gray hooded sweatshirt with a shorter “tomboyish” female, also in a hooded sweatshirt — matched the description of the robbers, so one police officer on the scene linked the two events.
CORRECTION: Sept. 17, 2012
An earlier version of this article stated that the theft occurred in entryway H. The suspects are accused of stealing from entryway I.
Yale was struck by a series of crimes on or near campus in the two weeks before students began moving in to the dorms.
Between Aug. 12-19, Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins emailed members of the University community four times about different incidents that occurred on or near Yale’s campus: three robberies, an attempted robbery and the discharge of a weapon. Higgins said he did not know whether the incidents represented a specific pattern of crime, but encouraged students to avoid displaying valuables especially while moving in.
“It is hard to characterize instances of crime by season or by time of day, as we seek to encourage students to take safety precautions and be aware of their surroundings throughout the year,” Higgins said in a Wednesday email to the News. “But it is certainly the case that when the semester starts, students are busy moving in, and many items such as portable electronics can be a tempting target to thieves.”
On Aug. 12 during a fight on the corner of Church and Chapel Streets at 2 a.m. gunshots were fired, though no one was reported shot. Roughly 30 minutes later a Yale employee was robbed of a wallet at the corner of Sachem Street and Whitney Avenue. Those two incidents were followed by an attempted robbery at Elm and Temple Streets at approximately 2:45 a.m. on Aug. 15.
On Aug. 17 and Aug. 19, two victims were robbed at central campus locations before the sun had set: one individual was robbed of an iPod at 7:25 p.m. in front of 15 Broadway near York Street, while another was robbed of her purse around 6:30 p.m. at Elm and Temple Streets. None of the incidents involved Yale students.
In an Aug. 21 campus-wide email, Higgins discussed the University’s public safety resources and reiterated the YPD’s safety advice to the Yale community. The same email was forwarded to Yale College parents the following day.
In the email, Higgins said students should take advantage of Yale’s safety resources and avoid displaying valuables, jewelry or cash openly, noting that Yale’s campus has seen incidences of “thieves grabbing phones from people’s hands as they are walking,” in line with a national uptick in this type of crime.
“Recent incidents have involved situations where a person walking with a cellphone or other device was distracted by listening to music, or texting, or talking on the phone, which gave the perpetrators the opportunity to strike,” Higgins told the News. “That’s why it is so important for people to stay alert and aware of their surroundings.”
The three robberies came at the very end of a summer that saw eight men murdered in the Elm City since Yalies left campus. These homicides brought New Haven’s 2012 murder count up to 11, down from 23 at this time last year, in which the city saw a 20-year high of 34 homicides.
While New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman said the trend in crime numbers was encouraging, he cautioned that it does not represent a complete victory.
“Behind every statistic there’s a story, and behind every number is a name,” Esserman told the News. “I’m glad we’re bringing down the violence in this city, but that means nothing to a mother who’s lost her child.”
Back on campus, the crime statistics have been on a “steady decline over the past 20 years,” Higgins said. In 2012, 97 percent of on-campus crime has involved property theft.
New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman will teach a Yale College seminar on “Policing in America” this fall.
Esserman, who was sworn into his post last November, will teach a course that examines the “major innovations in policing over the past three decades,” according to the Yale College seminar description. Yale College Dean Mary Miller said she invited Esserman last spring to propose a course, which has since been reviewed and approved by a subcommittee in her office.
“Those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it,” Esserman told the News, adding that he was grateful and proud to be teaching the course.
This will not be the first course Esserman, who is now a fellow of Jonathan Edwards college, has taught at Yale. Last semester, he taught a Law School clinic on “Innovations in Policing” with Professor James Forman Jr. LAW ’92. Esserman has quickly become an “engaged member of the community” within both New Haven and Yale, Miller said.
All five students enrolled in Esserman’s Law School clinic last spring said they would recommend the course to other students, according to course evaluations.
While Esserman was originally slated to teach his Yale College seminar in spring 2013, his teaching plans at the Law School “made a fall course more sensible,” Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs George Levesque said.
“[Policing in America is] an interesting topic, taught from a unique perspective that combines scholarly research with ‘real world’ experience,” Levesque said.”As such, it fits perfectly within the goals of the college seminar program.”
Esserman said his fall seminar will begin by covering the murder of Christian Prince on Hillhouse Avenue in 1991 — the same year Esserman arrived as assistant chief in the NHPD.
University President Richard Levin, who said he enjoyed working with Esserman when he previously served at the NHPD, added that today he shares with Mayor John DeStefano Jr. the “highest hopes for [Esserman’s] success as Chief.”
When he served as chief of the police department in Providence, R.I., Esserman taught for several years as a visiting scholar at Roger Williams University. He graduated from Dartmouth College and a earned his law degree at New York University.
Antonia Woodford and Tapley Stephenson contributed reporting.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. lobbied the state legislature for tougher gun control laws at a Wednesday afternoon press conference, condemning the behavior of a New Haven man who was arrested Tuesday night after he brought a .40-caliber handgun into a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” at the Criterion movie theater on Temple Street.
Sung-Ho Hwang, a 46-year-old immigration lawyer and New Haven resident, was charged with breach of peace and interfering with police for his refusal to comply immediately with the instructions of New Haven Police Department officers called to the theater at 10:11 p.m. Tuesday, according to department spokesman David Hartman. Although Hwang, who has a valid gun permit, defended his behavior under the Second Amendment, DeStefano said carrying guns into certain public spaces, while legal, did not reflect the values of Elm City residents, the New Haven Independent reported.
“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right,” DeStefano said, according to the Independent. “Do we need guns in theaters? Do we need guns at Batman?”
At a 4 p.m. City Hall press conference, DeStefano, flanked by New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman, called for a change in state law to allow New Haven to ban guns in certain public spaces such as churches and theaters.
After two sergeants and nearly 20 officers responded to reports that a man at the theater had an unconcealed handgun at his waist, they first searched Criterion’s Theater 2, which was screening “The Watch.” They then entered Theater 1, which was showing “The Dark Knight Rises” — the Batman sequel that was premiering at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., on July 20 when a gunman opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.
In Theater 1, officers told moviegoers to raise their hands and file out of the theater. Patrons were patted down as they were escorted outside.
Meanwhile, Hwang was identified with a .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol and repeatedly ordered him to put his hands up.
“He remained in his seat while using his cell phone,” Hartman said. “He did not comply with the officers’ commands, and was taken into custody by force. Officers removed a loaded handgun from the suspect’s waistband at the small of his back.”
Because Hwang, the president-elect of the New Haven County Bar Association, had a valid permit to carry a pistol, he was not arrested for the illegal possession of a firearm. Instead, he was arrested for his “unwillingness to comply” with police instructions, Hartman said.
But Hwang’s attorney, Hugh Keefe, disputed that account on Wednesday, telling the Independent that “people shouldn’t simply believe the police account.”
Shortly before the mayor spoke, Hwang held his own press conference at his Audubon Street law office at 3:30 p.m., reading off prepared remarks. He claimed he was only carrying a gun for self-defense.
“I normally do not carry, but I live in downtown New Haven and the movie was getting out at 1 a.m., so I felt that I should protect myself since I was alone,” he said, according to the Independent. “Why do law-abiding citizens feel they need to carry a weapon? … Why is New Haven considered the murder capital of Connecticut? Those are the real issues here.”
He did say, however, that in the climate of “heightened security” surrounding the “Dark Knight” movie, he did not fault moviegoers for calling the police about his weapon.
A 46-year-old New Haven man was arrested Tuesday evening after bringing a .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol into a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” at the Criterion movie theater.
Sung-Ho Hwang was charged with breach of peace and interfering with police for his refusal to comply immediately with the instructions of New Haven Police Department officers, who were called to the theatre at 10:11 p.m. Tuesday, according to department spokesman David Hartman. Two sergeants and almost 20 officers responded to multiple reports that a man at the theater had an unconcealed handgun at his waist.
After officers arrived at the scene, they first searched Theater 2, which was screening “The Watch.” They then turned their attention to Theater 1, which was showing “The Dark Knight Rises” — the same film that was opening at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., on July 20 when a gunman opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.
In Theater 1, officers told moviegoers to raise their hands and file out of the theater; patrons were patted down as they were escorted outside.
Meanwhile, officers identified Hwang with his weapon and repeatedly ordered him to put his hands up.
“He remained in his seat while using his cell phone,” Hartman said. “He did not comply with the officers’ commands, and was taken into custody by force. Officers removed a loaded handgun from the suspect’s waistband at the small of his back.”
Because Hwang, a former president of the New Haven County Bar Association, had a valid permit to carry a pistol, he was not arrested for the illegal possession of a firearm. Instead, he was arrested for his “unwillingness to comply” with police instructions, Hartman said.
Less than a day after the shootings in Aurora, the NHPD announced they would be giving “special attention” to Criterion, assigning supplemental beat patrols at the theater.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and NHPD Chief Dean Esserman are scheduled to hold a press conference at City Hall to address the incident Wednesday at 4 p.m.