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'No Snitch Mentality' Cited As Obstacle To Solving Homicides

Hilda Munoz

March 01, 2011

Eldie Lugo believes that someone saw, heard or knows something that can help detectives catch her brother's killer.

To her frustration, no one is coming forward.

"Nobody is doing nothing. Nobody is talking. Everybody is hiding," Lugo said.

Her brother Bruno Lugo was shot on Oct. 23, possibly on Hazel Street, where residents reported gunfire shortly after 2 that morning. The 35-year-old was found less than a block away on Orange Street and was pronounced dead at Hartford Hospital soon afterward.

Lugo's death happened in a year when Hartford had a double-digit percentage drop in homicides from the previous year. But of the 26 homicides last year, only seven of them about 27 percent have been cleared by arrest, leaving Lugo and other families like hers searching for closure.

One of the biggest obstacles to solving cases is getting information from citizens.

"We have to get rid of this 'no-snitch' mentality," Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said.

To solve a case, the nine homicide detectives in the department rely on a variety of tools, including forensic evidence, evidence seized at the scene and information from family, friends and witnesses.

Lt. Mack S. Hawkins, who recently became commander of the Hartford Police Department's major crimes division, said the percentage of homicide clearances in Hartford will go up.

"We're still new into 2011. We're still investigating homicides from 2010. It's going to take some time to solve these cases," Hawkins said.

Although the first 72 hours after a homicide are critical to solving the crime, Hawkins said, sometimes witnesses will relax and be more willing to cooperate with investigators once buzz surrounding a slaying has quieted down.

In Hartford, the percentage of homicides committed in 2009 that were cleared by arrest was 27.2 percent at the end of that year. As of this year, 38 percent of the 2009 homicides have been cleared, Hawkins said. Of 32 homicides in 2008, 53 percent have since been closed by arrest.

In New Haven, about half of the homicides committed in the last five years have been closed by arrest.

In some cases, arrests do not lead to convictions but still count as "closed." A 2008 Hartford case, for example, was dropped in criminal court after a key witness refused to testify.

Hawkins said that case is still considered closed, but the investigation into the slaying will continue until there is complete closure.

"There is relentless follow-up on cases," he said. "These families want closure on these cases. We will do everything we can to bring them closure."

"We never stop investigating a homicide," said police spokeswoman Nancy Mulroy. "We think the efforts of our neighborhood policing plan for the last four or five years is having an effect."

Mulroy cited a quick arrest in a double homicide on Jan. 1, 2011.

"Trust is easily lost but hard to build, and we've been building on that," she said.

Witness information is important, but experts caution that receiving faulty information is a possibility. A criminal facing a prison sentence will sometimes make up information to "soften the load," said Professor Joseph Pollini, deputy chairperson of the Law, Police Science Department at John Jay College.

"Hopefully they're just the run of the mill citizen who has nothing at stake," he said. "You have to take a hard look at the background of an individual."

The FBI counts all homicides solved in a given year, including those committed in previous years, when it calculates clearance rates. But that method, Hartford's homicide clearance rate was 61.2 percent in 2008, the most recent year for which complete figures are available. Bridgeport's clearance rate was 50 percent that same year. Stamford, which had a significantly lower number of homicides, had a 60 percent clearance rate.

The national homicide clearance rate in 2009 was 66.6 percent.

Bruno Lugo was a father of four who had just been released from prison and was struggling to set his life straight, his sister said. He worked a seasonal job at the Connecticut Meadows Music Theatre and was struggling to pay rent, she said.

"I never would have thought things would go down like this," Lugo said. "He was real close to me, and if anything was wrong, if he was stressed, he would tell me."

Lugo last spoke to her brother the morning before he was killed. She got a call from his children's mother the next morning saying Bruno had been shot.

"If somebody knows something They wouldn't like it if it was one of their loved ones and nobody comes forward. There are ways you can come forward and remain anonymous," she said.

Anyone with information about a homicide can leave anonymous tips by calling Hartford Crime Stoppers at 860-722-TIPS (8477).

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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