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Safe-Street Efforts Take A Hit

Stan Simpson

June 04, 2008

Nick Carbone, a prominent public servant turned notable gadfly, has spent his adult life advocating and agitating for Hartford. Now, he's a conspicuous reminder that arbitrary crime indeed occurs in his hometown.

The once-powerful deputy mayor in the late 1970s, who in past years has been a visible city and police critic, was beaten and robbed of his wallet Monday morning by "three young kids," as one witness told a security guard.

Carbone, 71, sustained severe injuries and was in the intensive care unit at Hartford hospital Tuesday. His son, Nick Jr., described him as "lucid ... and hungry when he's awake."

The attack on one of the city's most civically engaged citizens as he walked in his Frog Hollow neighborhood comes at a time when the HPD is jump-starting a new safe-street initiative, hiring 80 new cops and boasting of a 16 percent decrease in violent crimes, even though shootings are up.

Carbone's case is perplexing for police and city leaders because it belies their consistent position that the perception of crime in Hartford is distorted. The bulk of the shootings and violent crimes, they've said, are retaliatory, occur mostly at night and are in the same hot-spot neighborhoods usually involving a small circle of hoodlums. I've concurred with that assessment.

Carbone's assault, however, apparently was random, occurred in the daytime, allegedly by school-age children and was in an area that police and those walking there Tuesday afternoon said was safe. This is a new problem a big one for Mayor Eddie Perez and Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts. For their sakes and the city's, we can only hope it is an isolated one.

"It doesn't help the situation," Assistant Police Chief Neil Dryfe said when asked if Carbone's assault would hinder efforts to change the perception of crime in the city.

"It's a robbery. Robbery by its nature is a random crime that, often we find later, was a crime of opportunity," Dryfe said. "The crime of robbery in the city is down 25 percent year to date. I know that's not a comfort to Mr. Carbone, or his family, or probably anyone else. [But] we work very hard to investigate and clear these robberies by making arrests of the people who are committing them."

Twelve Hartford Public High School students were joking while walking down Laurel Street at about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, unaware of the Monday morning assault nearby. They told me they've never encountered any problems there and said they felt sorry for Carbone, but added that his situation could have happened anywhere.

"Hartford is like any other place in the whole world," student Steven Tobias said matter of factly.

A man who was driving in a van on Laurel Street said he's concerned that police will overreact to the assault because it involved a prominent figure.

The robbery of Carbone generated a lot of interest, including a press conference Tuesday at the police department. Sometimes it takes a crime committed against a prominent person to get the city to rethink, once again, its crime-fighting strategies.

John Kennelly, a former city councilman and scion of the legendary Kennelly political family, was mugged and pistol-whipped five years ago in the city's West End. At the time, the then-councilman had been advocating for more police officers.

Media attention to crimes against high-profile citizens, Kennelly said Tuesday, is a "double-edged sword."

"On the one hand, it gives a lot of people inside and outside of Hartford a perception that isn't the reality," he said. "Crime has been going down. But it also highlights that we need to do more."

One thing would be to find out why three "young kids" aren't in school at 9 a.m. on a Monday. Another would be to re-examine the city's new "safe-street initiative" to see if it merits expanding. It's early, and probably unfair, but already "safe street" has only contributed to notions that Hartford is unsafe.

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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