Acting Hartford Police Chief Has New Plan To Fight Violent Crime
Multi-Pronged Initiative Would Also Focus On Quality-Of-Life Issues, Recidivism
By JENNA CARLESSO and STEVEN GOODE
May 06, 2012
HARTFORD —— After nine months of fighting crime as head of the Hartford Shooting Task Force, James Rovella, now the city's acting police chief, is broadening his efforts.
He's developed a new plan to help combat violence and address quality-of-life issues citywide.
The effort is intended to build on the success of the shooting task force, which is credited in large part with a 50 percent reduction in homicides and an 8 percent drop in shootings over figures reported at this point last year.
The new plan calls for increasing police patrols in key areas, creating supportive relationships with criminals released on probation and continuing the work of the task force.
It will also concentrate on quality-of-life issues, such as noise complaints, larceny, littering and public intoxication. The initiative will continue for the rest of the year.
One part of the plan is designed to change notions that the city is a violent place by increasing police presence around major employers, including Aetna, The Hartford and Travelers, making commuting workers feel safe.
Community service officers, beat officers and staff from the traffic and patrol divisions would be deployed to businesses, college campuses and hospitals during peak times — when employees arrive at work, when they leave and during the lunch hour.
Mayor Pedro Segarra said fostering a public perception that Hartford is a safe city is necessary to attract new businesses and potential home buyers or renters.
"It's not only important in terms of our image," Segarra said. "To relieve the burden on taxpayers, we have to, as a necessity, develop more housing and attract more businesses and grow the grand list. One of the best ways to do that is to make the city more attractive and bring down our crime stats."
Rovella said it's important to make sure that the employees of the city's largest taxpayers feel safe on and around their campuses. But he emphasized that city neighborhoods will continue to get a significant commitment of police department resources.
"That won't change," he said.
Steve Harris, a former city firefighter and former city councilman, disagreed with the plan's intentions. He said that police presence in his North End neighborhood is spotty at best right now.
"I believe that I and my family should feel the same sense of safety that people driving in and out of the city to the suburbs do every day," Harris said. "It's an insult to the people who live in the city."
But police officials said the department will also work to put more officers on the streets throughout the city.
"As new officers complete their field training program, the patrol division will take advantage of the flexibility made available with additional personnel," Rovella's plan says. "Foot beats and bicycles will be filled and utilized to the best of our staffing ability."
As part of the focus on such quality-of-life issues as noise, broken windows, theft, littering, public drinking and illegal dumping, school resource officers will be redirected to join a quality-of-life team during the schools' summer break, and additional uniformed police officers will help out whenever possible, the plan says.
"An emphasis will be placed on responsiveness to neighborhood concerns and accommodating a safe atmosphere in our city parks throughout the summer," the plan says. "It is our commitment to 'taking care of the small things in life that impact the larger issues.'"
The traffic division would also be involved, with members turning their attention to car-racing, speeding and noise problems.
Rovella said he expects quality-of-life enforcement to have much the same effect the shooting team did: It made breaking the law in Hartford a hassle for criminals.
"It will show a ripple effect," he said. "The bad guys are going to leave town."
In an effort to break the cycle of former inmates on probation committing new crimes, Rovella has introduced a program called Preventing Recidivism Through Organized Supervision, Partnerships and Enhanced Relationships, or PROSPER. It pairs probationers with two sponsors — a probation officer and a police officer.
Under the plan, sponsors develop relationships with the probationers and their families to help keep them on track.
"A word or minutes between a probationer and a police officer could result in second thoughts for the probationer to be involved in criminal activity," the plan says.
Rovella said changing an officer's role from enforcement to a form of social work is unusual but could reduce recidivism. "It took some talking [with community services officers who will be participating in the effort]. They were saying, 'You want to do what?'" he said.
Rovella's proposal also calls for the continued efforts of the shooting task force, with an emphasis on solving cold case homicides.
Segarra said the shooting task force will continue for an "open-ended" period of time and that he'll work with Gov.Dannel P. Malloyto maintain state resources.
The task force consists of 54 members from a variety of law enforcement groups, such as the Hartford police, Chief State's Attorney's Office, state Department of Correction, state police, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and the police departments in East Hartford, Manchester and West Hartford.
Although several of Rovella's initiatives would likely require overtime pay, Segarra said the city isn't increasing the police department's budget during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Instead, he said, the programs will be managed by shifting resources.
"Overtime can be managed and it should be managed," he said. "A lot of it depends on how strategic and how capable you are of managing your resources."
The shifting of resources will include moving officers from street crime to the quality-of-life initiative, Rovella said.
The plan also calls for federal agencies to take over drug trade investigations and enforcement, while vice and narcotics will target drug groups that are engaged in violent crime.
Uniformed officers will continue to address street level drug activity, but unless drug sales or use increase the level of violence in the city, the plan says, the department may not have the resources to devote to the issue.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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