March 14, 2007
By STEVEN GOODE, Courant Staff Writer
Crime in Hartford decreased for the second straight year in 2006, with double-digit percentage declines in murder, rape and burglary, a new report shows.
But although crime fell more than 5 percent overall last year - and nearly 17 percent in the past two years - gunfire in the city continued to rise.
And Hartford continues to wrestle with a perception of danger, aggravated by incidents such as the lockdown of an elementary school this month and the shooting death last month of a suburban grandmother who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Over the past four years, a police department crime report shows, murder declined nearly 8 percent, robbery more than 15 percent and rape 23 percent.
"We have to change the perception that Hartford is unsafe," Police Chief Daryl Roberts said Tuesday. "Hartford is not as bad as people think it is."
Mayor Eddie A. Perez on Monday proposed hiring 80 new police officers - an increase in the force of about 20 percent.
Roberts plans to reintroduce mounted patrols and wants to devote new officers to hot spots such as the Northeast District, where half the city's shooting incidents occurred last year.
Citywide, shooting incidents increased by 3.8 percent last year while the number of victims rose by more than 11 percent, according to department statistics.
During the first eight weeks of 2007, both the number of shooting incidents and victims declined about one-third from the same period last year, department figures show.
One of those victims was Deanna Pugh, a grandmother from Enfield who had just dropped off a relative from a doctor's appointment. She was standing on a sidewalk a few blocks from Trinity College on Feb. 7 when gunfire from a passing car killed her.
Roberts said such random shootings are rare.
"The majority of times, victim and assailant know each other," Roberts said Tuesday. "There are very few random acts of violence in our city."
Fifty percent of the city's 164 shooting incidents last year were in the Northeast District. More than half of the city's 197 shooting victims were wounded there.
More police on the streets would help solve problems in the North End, according to Reggie Hales, president of the Hartford Enterprise Zone Business Association and publisher of the Inquiring News, a neighborhood weekly.
"Give me officers on the streets for 12 months, and I can write a headline that says we have a safer neighborhood," Hales said Tuesday. "We know for a fact that if you have Johnny Cop on the block, crime will go down."
Roberts agreed that more cops would help, but he conceded that gunfire involves broader issues, including a generation of young people who are desensitized to violence and settle disputes with guns instead of fists.
That seemed to be the case earlier this month when a group of teenagers was fired on from a car one block from Burns Elementary School, forcing a 90-minute lockdown of the school that frightened children and panicked parents.
Although gunfire was most frequent in the Northeast District, overall crime in 2006 was highest in the Southeast District, which includes Franklin, Maple and Wethersfield avenues.
About 33 percent of all city crime occurred there, according to the report, including the most robberies and burglaries.
Al Marratta, president of the Franklin Avenue Merchants Association and a former city councilman, contends the neighborhood is safer than the statistics suggest.
He believes much of the crime involves drug use - violence often is between drug dealers and drug users.
Marratta said the area has the Hartford Guides, an organization that serves as a block watch group, patrolling in vans until 1 a.m. several nights a week, and a police substation is to open on Maple Avenue.
By and large, he said, business owners and visitors in the South End feel safe.
For Roberts, convincing people in and out of Hartford that the city is safe is a tougher nut to crack than reducing crime.
"We can talk about it, but this is the truth. Statistics don't matter. People need to feel safe," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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