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Hartford Police Need To Do More To Solve Homicides

Helen Ubiñas

March 10, 2011

Dear Top Cop,

I'm right there with you in slamming residents for hiding behind the city's insipid no-snitching code. But what's with using that same lame excuse to justify your department's poor performance?

In a story about Hartford's unsolved homicides last week, Police Chief Daryl Roberts said one of the biggest obstacles to solving cases is getting information from citizens.

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

No argument here. But that doesn't explain why police have made arrests in only seven of the city's 26 homicides last year.

Look, it would be great if people cooperated with police, if residents finally realized that despite admittedly real dangers, nothing — and no one — will improve this city until they step up and do the right thing. That includes pointing the finger at the criminals around them.

But as I'm so often reminded any time I criticize cops, policing is hard work. Agreed.

That means that sometimes there aren't going to be willing witnesses or damning evidence or even a trail of bread crumbs that lead straight to a culprit.

It means that cops have to do the tough work for which they are responsible and compensated — no matter what the obstacle.

I wondered if the pathetically low rate of solved cases was an issue of turnover in the major crimes division; maybe new, inexperienced detectives? A new commander took over the unit just last month.

But for a department that loves using the word transparent, it wasn't willing to share many details about the squad.

"The Hartford Police Department does not discuss and/or comment on internal personnel matters," HPD spokesperson Nancy Mulroy e-mailed in response to my questions.

Ridiculous. But you know what, even if the squad was chock full of newbies, it doesn't explain a history of lingering unsolved murder cases. As of this year, only 38 percent of 2009 homicides have been cleared. Of 32 homicides in 2008, only 53 percent have been closed by arrest.

Cops I spoke with said the low numbers are a reflection of an ongoing lack of trust between police and the community.

The Rev. Henry Brown, who's led anti-violence rallies in the city for years, said it's about priorities. And from his vantage point, he says, it seems that murders of neighborhood residents with sometimes less-than-squeaky-clean records isn't high on anyone's priority list.

Whatever's behind this, it's about time city leaders — the chief, the mayor — call these numbers what they are: unacceptable. And the time is long overdue for everyone to stop perpetuating the pathological phenomenon of silence that paralyzes this city.

In the meantime, families wait years for justice, if it ever comes. Last month, I listened to Carmen Rodriguez, whose 16-year-old son Carlos was killed in 2002, emotionally talk about how more than eight years after he was gunned down no one had been convicted of his murder.

"I know I'm not the only mother waiting," she said.

She and Brown admitted that residents need to speak up. "But the cops need to do more, too," Brown said. "They can't put it all on the community."

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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