Major Crime Down In City, But Images Of Violence Linger
JEFFREY B. COHEN
January 01, 2009
In a year when major crime declined slightly in Hartford, it's difficult to forget a bloody night in August when a relative of the city's police chief was killed and six juveniles were wounded by gunfire in a violent end to the festive West Indian parade.
All told, 11 people were shot that weekend, victims of what Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said wasn't the old-school gang violence of the 1990s, but new-school — young people shooting young people, fluid groups of armed teenagers settling disputes with guns.
Now, looking back on a year that also saw the brutal beating of a long-ago deputy mayor and a nationally televised hit-and-run on Park Street that left an elderly man paralyzed, police officials say there is reason for some optimism.
Roberts said the city saw a roughly 9 percent drop in its aggregate major crime statistics — murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts — from Dec. 31, 2007 through Dec. 20, 2008. And although arrests for nonviolent crimes either flat-lined or declined this year when compared with last, arrests for murder, rape and aggravated assault each rose significantly.
Roberts knows this information comes as a small dose of good news in a city where violent crime — gun violence in particular — continues. With 31 killings as of Dec. 27, fewer people were slain in the city this year than last, when there were 32 or 33 killings, depending on how the death of a man found dead in a car trunk in Hartford is counted.
But more people — 201 — were victims of more shootings — 159 — in 2008, reversing gains the city made the year before and reminding Roberts of the city's challenge: young people shooting young people.
"Most young men, especially young men living in the areas of urban environment, have resorted to using violent crime to resolve their issues," Roberts said, calling it a nationwide problem. Two-thirds of those killed this year were young black and Latino men between the ages of 16 and 25. "The biggest killer of minority males in urban environments are other males; in most cases, it's other minority males," Roberts said.
The Rev. Henry Brown said 2008 wasn't a good year.
"I've never seen it like it was this year," said Brown, head of Mothers United Against Violence.
"Those injuries [involving shooting victims] might not be life-threatening, but they have consequences," Brown said. "People are never the same again. You have people in wheelchairs, people are paralyzed. ... When injuries are not life-threatening, people think that's a good thing. But that's not good."
After the shootings intensified this summer, the city instituted a nighttime curfew for young people that lasted two months. Shooting incidents continued, but they were down by a third during the curfew's two months when compared with the same two months in 2007. The number of shooting victims also declined during the curfew when compared with 2007.
While speaking of the positives in the city, Roberts also touched on how his department has increased its work with state and federal agencies to get guns off the streets. More than 400 guns were seized this year, he said.
Roberts stressed that his priority is stopping or solving violent crimes.
"To me, that's paramount," Roberts said. "Property can be replaced. Somebody breaks into you house, it can be devastating, but you're alive. … You murder somebody, that person doesn't come back."
Mayor Eddie A. Perez did not return a call for comment. His spokeswoman, Sarah Barr, said, "Public safety still remains a top priority for the city." Roberts and Perez will hold a press conference in early 2009 to release the city's analysis of 2008 crimes, Barr said.
City Council President Calixto Torres says Hartford's not alone in dealing with violence.
"It's a senseless disregard for the value of human life by a small percentage of individuals who think they are above the law. And we have to deal with that," Torres said. "It's a major societal problem, it's a devaluing of human life and property by a segment of the population which feels disenfranchised and of out of the mainstream and has lost a sense of hope.
"When you lose hope, then everything is worthless out there, including other people's lives," Torres said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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