Overall Crime Is Down And Hartford's New Police Chief Is Saying All The Right Things, But Violence Remains On The Uptick Nonetheless.
December 14, 2006
By MEIR RINDE, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
Daryl Roberts entered his sixth month as Hartford’s police chief this week, and it looks like he has some cause for celebration. So far this year, the number of serious crimes in the city is down 5.4 percent from the same time last year and 17 percent from two years ago.
Burglaries were down almost 20 percent, auto thefts fell by 7 percent, and the number of rapes was down about 16 percent, to 53.
“I’ve been here for five months now, and I think there has been a positive change with the way we treat citizens in the street,” Robert said in an interview last Friday. He was sitting at his desk in the executive suite at the department’s North Meadows headquarters.
“Believe me, we made numbers of arrests, you’ll see crime is going down, and to me there’s less police being discourteous, less police misconduct,” he said. “I’m trying to make sure that the public understands that we work for them and we’re going to treat them with professional service.”
Crime has been down each month since Roberts took over in July from former chief Patrick Harnett, but the statistics aren’t all good. Over the full year through November, figures for violent crime have been mixed. While fewer rapes were reported, there have been 22 murders so far this year, the same as last year. That’s five more than there were by this point in 2004.
Aggravated assaults increased 8.8 percent from 2005 and 23.3 percent from two years ago. Robberies, which involve threats or violence, are up 12.1 percent.
The general picture is of steady decreases in rapes and non-violent crimes, but high numbers of other kinds of assaults and a murder rate that continues to generate outrage and fear among residents, especially in worse-off areas like the North End.
When, in January, Harnett presented a similarly mixed picture for 2005 that included a sharp increase in murders, he described shootings as an unavoidable “part of the urban fabric.” Last week Roberts said the city is doing all it can to prevent homicides.
“Our society is predicated on violence. I mean, it’s a fact,” he said. “We say all the right things, we want to be nice, and then if you say something we don’t like, we shoot you. I mean, unfortunately, we live in the world.
“What do we do to control homicides? We got to get people to be nicer to each other. You can’t really say the police department needs to be doing something about homicides. People need to stop killing each other.”
A bigger police force could better combat crime, Roberts said. He wants to have 600 sworn officers within five years, a huge increase over the current figure of 411. Harnett pushed for more personnel too, but given the city’s tight budget and already high taxes, was able to do little more than hire new people to replace retiring officers.
In addition to the increases in some categories of violent crime, 2006 also closes with a small but unsettling spate of attacks around the otherwise quiet Bushnell Park, including a minor stabbing in October, a rape in November and two muggings on one day last week.
Downtown, in fact, has been a relative hotspot. From January to the end of October, the number of crimes in the neighborhood was almost 17 percent higher than in the same period last year.
Roberts said the problem appeared to be an increase in larcenies, which included car break-ins that occur when a concert at the Civic Center draws many drivers to poorly monitored private parking lots.
As for the recent crimes, Roberts said they appeared to be isolated incidents that did not represent a trend.
One of the two muggings targeted an employee of Vito’s By the Park; after she handed over some cash the robber demanded “the rest of the money,” Roberts said, indicating he knew something about the woman’s routine and had planned the holdup. (She was carrying $1,000.) The other incident was a “crime of opportunity” by three people who knocked a state DEP worker to the ground but fled without any money, Roberts said.
Both victims took several hours to call police, and the department urged residents to report crimes more quickly. Roberts also began stationing officers in cruisers in the park and coordinated crime prevention efforts with the capitol police.
The rape that reportedly occurred Nov. 14 remains under investigation. Roberts said officers are still trying to determine if an assault really occurred in the park.
Roberts, 48, was born to a teenage mother, grew up in Hartford housing projects, and was eventually the oldest of 10 siblings. He was a top athlete at Bulkeley High and considered a pro football career.
Now a 24-year police veteran and the father of three daughters, he blames the stubborn problem of violent crime on incivility. In the interview he focused particularly on young people who he said grow up without life skills they need. He conjured up a vanished time when, he said, kids had more courtesy and respect.
“See, we have a selfish society now,” he said. “It’s about the Me generation. They want instant gratification, they have the psychology of entitlement, and they don’t think about the other person. When I was growing up, you know, you always addressed people as Miss, Mrs. Yes, sir, yes, ma’am. Now that respect is gone. You have young people calling adults by their first name. That would never have happened 10 years ago.
“Young people right now, a majority of them in my opinion are cowards because they can’t sit down and have a discussion and work out their differences without resorting to extreme violence. It doesn’t take a brave person to shoot someone and run away.”
Roberts has spoken at 70 community meetings since he became chief, and in the interview he moved between brief set speeches on youth, on police misconduct, on treating residents nicely, on unity in the police department, and on the dangers of the Internet.
“When I was growing up, you know, we used to go outside to play,” he continued. “We used to watch — remember the program Lost in Space ? With the robot, Will Robinson? We used to watch Lost in Space . Now kids got MySpace.com. And as far as I know nobody ever went to jail for watching Lost in Space . A lot of people get arrested for going on MySpace.com.”
Have “a lot” of MySpace users been arrested? Never mind the details — the chief was on a roll.
So far, residents seem to like Roberts’ philosophy. Kevin Brookman, a community activist who follows police issues, noted that, unlike Harnett, Roberts is a native who is “more in touch” with the city and more willing to admit hard facts, like the department’s understaffing. He seems passionate about community policing, embraces the notions of foot patrols and endorses a social service role for officers.
Of course, that doesn’t mean violent crime will fall, Brookman noted. Issues beyond Roberts’ control, like national trends in violent crime, the availability of guns, and the city’s ability to hire more officers, may end up determining the shape of his tenure as chief.