Posted 6/25/12

Crime Stoppers

Crime Fighters
Photo by Steve Kotchko

There have been troubling crime reports from Connecticut’s big cities in recent months, including 10 shootings in a single weekend in Hartford, not a great image for a state seeking to sell itself as a great place to live and do business.  So last week, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy met with big city mayors and the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut to discuss ways to stop the gun violence.

In past administrations, the state has offered state troopers to bolster city police when violent crime made headlines.  That was not in the cards this time in part because of an ongoing dispute between the Malloy administration and the trooper union that claims there aren’t enough troopers on the road to handle regular business.  Experts also disagree on whether state troopers, trained for highway and rural duties, match up well with city cops geared to street crime.

Instead, the Governor announced the state would make an initial commitment of $500,000 to help Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven in a project called “Focused Deterrence.”  He said the concept has worked well in other cities including Chicago, Boston, Cincinnati, and Providenc

Defining how the program operates was a bit of a challenge for officials.  Essentially it will “focus” more police and probation attention on individuals already known to authorities for their past involvement with guns and crime.  “We know, for the most part, who the violent individuals are in our communities,” said Malloy.  “This is a prolonged project in having those individuals understand we know who they are, they know who we are, and it’s going to be our focus with that group of people to lower violent crime.”

When reporters pressed for more details on how “focused deterrence” will work and how the money will be spent, Malloy sidestepped citing police strategy.  “The specific techniques we will use are ones, to be honest, that we don’t want to talk about in too great a detail,” he explained. 

City officials praised the administration’s assistance, but sought to downplay any hope of an immediate turn-around for gun violence.  “It’s not going to eliminate all the crime for our communities, but it does accomplish one important thing and that is to keep our young men and women alive,” said a hopeful Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and others stressed that success in the anti-gun violence program needs full community involvement.  “These are our kids, not all of them are admirable who have been shot or killed and have made bad choices,” he said, adding, “but these are our families and we can do better, and I welcome the Governor’s challenge to us all.”

Michael Lawlor, the ex-lawmaker who now handles criminal justice issues for the administration in the State Office of Policy and Management said “nothing will work unless it is supported by the community and that means it’s a two-way street.”  Lawlor explained:  “They have to be supportive of what we’re doing, we have to be supportive of what they’re doing.  That awareness is what has meant success for this initiative in the other cities (that have used this strategy).”

There was strong support for the initiative from a key federal official, U.S. Attorney for Connecticut David Fein.  He said all federal agencies with a tie to law enforcement are “absolutely committed to reducing violent crimes generally and gang violence in particular.”

Fein said the “focused deterrence” program can be successful in Connecticut but must be broad-based, including not only police and prosecutors but “social service providers, community members, and clergy.” 

The U.S. Attorney noted federal authorities and state and local police, working in coordination, have charged nearly 200 defendants in six major prosecutions linked to narcotics trafficking, gang activity, and associated acts of violence in New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport.  Fein said the crackdown led to the seizure of 40 weapons, nearly $1 million in cash, and “significant quantities of crack and powder cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and illegally-trafficked prescription pills.”

Fein said “the job of a prosecutor is not limited to criminal cases, but includes addressing community crime problems.”  He said that requires “a real and palpable commitment to prevention and intervention—in other words, stopping violent crime before it happens.”

Malloy tried to put the crime problems in Connecticut is perspective.  He said “while overall crime statewide is down and is at its lowest rate since 1968, gun violence in our major cities remains unacceptably high.”  In 2011, 94 of the 129 homicides in Connecticut occurred in New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport—the cities in the new anti-crime project.

“Young people are killing other young people, often for no discernible reason,” said the Governor.  “As a result, we’re losing young people, and children are growing up without parents—it’s got to stop,” he concluded.

No one at the anti-crime news conference went overboard in predicting the program would halt all violence, especially as the state moves into the summer season when more people are in the streets.  “These strategies are not magic bullets,” said the Governor, “and they won’t stop these problems overnight—they can’t, but they have proven effective in reducing gun-related violence in other cities.”  Said Malloy:  “I have every confidence they will help us address this problem in our state.”

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