By JEFFREY B. COHEN, STEVEN GOODE And DANIEL E. GOREN | Courant Staff Writers
June 07, 2008
A familiar pre-summer pattern in the state's capital city took shape Friday, as a string of random and brutal crimes sparked the promised presence of the state police and stepped-up vigilance.
And there are many who agree that a stronger police presence, as well as the city's focus on education and economic development, are good ways to help make Hartford safer and more livable.
But in the violent days since a 78-year-old man was left paralyzed after a hit-and-run, a former deputy mayor was severely beaten on his morning walk, and Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts told the city that it had a "toxic" relationship with itself, some of those same people are left wondering what a more lasting answer might be.
"To come out and say, 'If we just did X that would solve our problem, I don't know of an X,'" said R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, head of the MetroHartford Alliance, the region's chamber of commerce. "That's where, I think, we're all frustrated."
Board of education member Andrea Comer echoed that.
"The police department can't teach someone to give a crap when someone gets run over in the street," she said. "And elected officials can't make someone keep track of their kids so they're not 12, 13, 14 years old in a stolen van and 4 o'clock in the morning."
"It's not as bad as it was when the Latin Kings, the Solidos, and 20-Love ruled the street," Comer said. "But it is still bad."
Leslie Griffin, a Frog Hollow resident since November, said what many have said over the years — that the city needs to pay closer attention to street level quality-of-life issues. She rented her apartment across the street from Maria Sanchez school online and has come to regret her move to Hartford from New Hampshire with her two kids.
Since moving in, she said, she has stopped kids from beating others in the street, seen bicycles being stolen and drugs being dealt, she said. These things take their toll on the neighborhood, and on her. When her lease comes up in November, she's moving to the suburbs, she said.
"People are downtrodden. We see that kind of stuff every day," Griffin said. "We need proactive police, we need a presence. It doesn't exist in Frog Hollow."
Frank Barrows, a former mayoral candidate and state senator, said the police need to be no-nonsense.
"Around here people can drive around with no seat belts or [with] guns or drugs and nobody is going to do a thing about it, but if you go over the line into Windsor or Bloomfield, you know they are going to pull you over," Barrows said. "In Hartford it's 'I do what I want to do.'"
But he said the city needs more than a summer solution.
"When you have people losing their lives you have to do something permanent," he said. "If you had two or three deaths in West Hartford in a week you can bet something would be done about it."
On Friday, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced that she had offered Mayor Eddie Perez the assistance of state police officers to help fight violent crime and quality-of-life offenses in Hartford. She also offered to help plan a series of warrant sweeps and to step up monitoring of ex-offenders on probation.
Perez accepted the offer of help and meetings are scheduled for next week to work out logistics.
The governor's offers come after a particularly violent stretch in Hartford.
Last Friday, a hit-and-run accident that was caught on tape left Angel Arce Torres, 78, paralyzed, lying in the middle of Park Street under full view of passing motorists and onlookers. That incident has garnered national attention. Torres' condition was critical as of Friday afternoon.
Monday morning, a savage beating and robbery sent former Deputy Mayor Nicholas Carbone to the hospital with severe injuries. Carbone is still fair and stable.
Wednesday, police discovered the badly decomposed body of a man in the basement of a recently foreclosed home. Early Thursday, a 14-year-old boy was killed when the stolen van he was riding in flipped over, and a 33-year-old Manchester man was killed in a shooting on Acton Street.
Later Thursday, a man was shot and wounded and, on Friday, 18-year-old William Googe died after being shot in the city's North End.
Roberts said Friday he had been talking with state police and federal authorities for months in anticipation of the Safe City initiative and has two task forces operating in the city. But he'll meet with the state police Monday to bring more police and high visibility.
"With the current events there's a sense of urgency," Roberts said. And a need for visibility. "When you feel safe, you are safe."
But he could use more bodies. He has 415 officers; he needs 600, he said.
The mayor has budgeted for more than 100 new police officers over the past two years, but the impact of those recruits will not be felt until after the summer, according to the city's projections. The city will have closer to 410 sworn police officers throughout the summer, instead of the 460 they expect to have once the colder months arrive.
Perez said that, in order to "make sure it doesn't get out of control" this summer, the city will have to authorize more overtime and ask officers to sacrifice vacations to help the city out.
"It means a lot more police presence — walking beats — than we normally would," Perez said Thursday. "That not only makes people feel better, but it gives the signal to the guys that you are going to be arrested. That means we will do more sweeps in the tough areas. I wouldn't call it harassing, but we will be in peoples' faces. A bigger presence, and a strategic presence."
While the presence was welcomed, others wonder how much government can do if its citizens take citizenship for granted.
"There is a deterioration and disintegration of boundaries of the community, and what is left is government to pick up the pieces," said state Rep. Art Feltman. "But there are not enough resources if the norm becomes violence. There is not possibly enough resources to contain that."
State Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey, who asked Rell for state help, said that much of the problem has to do with money that used to be in Hartford and that isn't anymore. Wrap that in with the city's "intergenerational poverty," the "sense of hopelessness that goes with that," and the fact that Martin Street, where she works at a community center, has had nearly two dozen shootings in just over three years, and things aren't good.
"And I'm hearing through the grapevine … that Martin Street is going to be a one of the hot streets this summer," she said. "I sat and talked with my staff about it, asking them how do they feel, do they feel safe, do they want to close a little earlier."
"They said they didn't want to," Kirkley-Bey said. "We're going to run business as we always have."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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