Overall, Crime Is Down In Hartford - But A Troubling Increase In Homicides Shows The Need For Community Initiatives To Counter A Culture Of Violence
By DARYL K. ROBERTS, Hartford Police Chief
January 20, 2008
Hartford, like thousands of cities and towns nationwide, annually reports all Part 1 crime (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft) to the FBI under the national Uniform Crime Reporting System. In 2007, overall Part 1 crime decreased in Hartford from a high in 1981 of 24,732 to an all-time low of 8,838. This represents a decrease of 65 percent.
More specifically, since 2002, Part 1 crime has decreased 18.8 percent. Overall violent crime is down 6.6 percent and property crimes are down by 17.2 percent over 2006, bucking national trends. There were fewer shooting incidents and fewer shooting victims. Robberies, larcenies and overall Part 1 crime are the lowest in the history of our tracking crime statistics.
Despite these inroads, we have experienced an inexplicable and unacceptable 33 percent increase in homicides. Of the 32 homicides in the city last year, two were innocent bystanders, four were gang-related, four were verbal arguments that escalated to shootings, three were drug-related, three were domestic incidents, two were bar fights that escalated to deadly violence, one was a fight after a party, one was a group assault by people with mental health issues, one was a robbery suspect killed by his co-conspirator, one was a retaliation for a robbery, one involved child abuse, one was deemed justified (a burglar stabbed by a homeowner) and eight were of unknown motive. Few of these acts of violence were random, but rather were committed by people involved with gangs, domestic disputes, drug purchases and sales or other criminal activities.
The increase in homicides is of serious concern and unacceptable to me as chief of police and as a human being. One homicide is one too many. For me every life is valuable and precious - but unfortunately, our society is predicated on violence. Whether it is in video games or movies or music lyrics, the message is often that violence can make you a man, get you respect or even reward you, like in the video game "25 to Life" in which killing cops is the object of the game.
As the homicide statistics show, there is a definite trend in arguments and fights escalating to extreme violence. In years gone by, arguments were settled by fist fights. Now we see a brash willingness to reach for a gun to resolve a conflict. It doesn't take a brave person to shoot someone and run away.
Of the first three homicides in 2008, two involved arguments that escalated into deadly gun violence and the third was a child abuse case. What predictors do the police have to prevent such spontaneous violent crimes?
What can we as a community do? First, those who contribute to drug-driven crime can stop. Every day officers respond to reports of street robberies where the victims admit that they came to Hartford to buy drugs and were robbed. Or, it's 3 a.m. - in a known hot spot of drug activity and violence - and a person reports a stolen car, when in fact the vehicle was traded for a half a gram of cocaine. The incidents are so prevalent we have nicknamed these types of stolen cars "Half a G-Cars."
Second, we as a community can create options for our youths other than a life on the street. We can provide conflict resolution skills that rely on communication rather than on violence.
The police department's Truancy Reduction Program, funded by The Travelers, is attempting to do just that by getting children to school and connecting them with the support services they need to flourish and achieve.
The Police Athletic League, our girls soccer league and the department's Explorers and Cadets programs focus on mentoring our youth and showing them they do have choices and that there are opportunities. However, the police cannot do it alone - it requires a full commitment from the community.
This year, the Hartford Police Department plans to put more police on the street. We have been conducting continuous recruitment with the target of hiring 80 new police officers. I have already asked federal and state authorities for resources for our Violent Crime Impact Team and Fugitive Task Force, which target gun-related violent crimes. Planning has begun for a 2008 safe summer initiative, and we are bringing back the department's mounted horse patrol.
We are currently conducting a pilot program on Quality of Life Enforcement that I hope to expand throughout the city. I also anticipate that proposed changes to the criminal justice system by Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the General Assembly -- particularly with respect to the unsupervised release of parolees and individuals on probation into the state's cities - will help reduce crime even further.
The police are doing their job and will continue to do so. I am proud of the men and women of the Hartford Police Department and their accomplishments. I am also proud of and grateful to members of our community who are partnering with the police through our Neighborhood Policing Plan. The community's support and willingness to work with police is critical to our success.
It is my firm belief that through improved community relations, a strong police presence and continued professional police service, we have made our neighborhoods and residents, businesses, visitors and those who work in our city safer. While continuing to provide better service, building positive relationships and keeping everyone safe, we will work harder than ever to eliminate the fear of crime.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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