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Trying to Stop the Bloodshed

By Matt Burgard, Courant Staff Writer
March 4, 2005

Hartford's top leaders told a crowd of residents Thursday that they do not intend to use any so-called "stopgap measures'' such as temporarily beefed up police patrols to address the problem of youth-on-youth gun violence that contributed to last week's shooting death of a 15-year-old high school honors student.

Instead, the city's mayor and police chief said they intend to get at the complex issues at the heart of the problem by pursuing long-term solutions and strategies that have been in the works for several weeks. Speaking before a crowd of about 50 residents in the auditorium at Weaver High School -- where teachers and students are still mourning last week's shooting death of sophomore Lorenzo Morgan Rowe -- Police Chief Patrick Harnett outlined a new citywide policing plan that calls for more police attention and community interaction in parts of the city.

Instead of beefing up patrols in the Blue Hills neighborhood, where Lorenzo was shot last week while walking home from a basketball game, Harnett and Mayor Eddie A. Perez said they believe the police department's new approach will bring the kind of long-term solution that other, temporary measures have failed to produce in the past.

Perez waved off a question about whether he would consider asking for officers from outside agencies, such as the state police, to help patrol problem neighborhoods -- a tactic that has been used several times in the past during eruptions of gun violence.

Instead, the mayor said, he hopes to rely less on police and more on schools, social services groups and residents themselves to identify problems before they are allowed to escalate into bloodshed.

In particular, Perez said he has spent the past several weeks identifying young people at city middle and high schools who have severe disciplinary and behavior problems, many of whom have been suspended repeatedly or have been arrested. He said he has gone to the homes of several dozen of those young people in an effort to reach out to their parents or guardians to prevent their children from either turning to violence or falling victim to it.

After his conversations with the parents or guardians, Perez said, he then has turned to schools and social service agencies to see what kind of help can be provided to the families to save their children. In many cases, he said, he has encountered mothers or fathers who have expressed frustration over not being able to control their children.

"We have this stereotype of the parents who don't care or who are never there, but that's not usually the case,'' he said. "These are mothers and guardians who need help.''

By trying to identify problems before they explode, the mayor said, he hopes to make it easier for Harnett and his department to clamp down on the problems that do result in violence or law-breaking.

Harnett urged residents to have faith in his plan rather than calling for a temporary measure that might bring a few days or weeks of relief, only to return when the measure has ended.

"Give us a chance,'' he said. "It's something we're working on and we understand these issues have an awful lot to do with young people. ... It's a process, and it's unfair to say this is going to change everything overnight.''

But some residents said the city needs to take more action while waiting for the long-term strategies to bear fruit.

Robert Taylor, a father who lives in the neighborhood near Weaver, said the police department should devote more officers to neighborhoods where gun violence has broken out rather than distributing them evenly throughout the city.

"If this is where the kids are shooting each other, this is where the cops should be,'' he said.

Thursday's forum took place three hours after hundreds of Lorenzo Rowe's family members and friends, as well as Perez and other community leaders, gathered for a memorial service. Police have arrested two other teens in connection with Lorenzo's killing, which police said appears to have been a case of mistaken identity.

During the service at St. Monica's Episcopal Church in the city's North End, the Rev. Himie-Budu Shannon told mourners that other young people will be similarly memorialized in the future unless parents and neighbors take responsibility for raising their children.

"Why is this community not outraged?'' he asked. "Parents, you are to be blamed, too. ... You are responsible because God gave you these gifts.'

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.
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