Police Chief Patrick Harnett
fights crime by dissecting numbers, and he is reassured that
the city’s overall crime rate has dropped 12.6 percent
this year. But brazen gun violence persists on the streets, and
that has some residents worried about the chief’s approach.
June 19, 2005
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer
Hartford Police Chief Patrick
J. Harnett strides into the conference room at police headquarters
with the imperious demeanor of a college professor preparing
to grill students on a final exam. Only in this case, the students
are members of Harnett's top command staff, and the questions
he's firing at them have ramifications for thousands of city
"Whaddaya got your conditions
team doing, Jose?" Harnett asks Capt. Jose Lopez in his
thick New York dialect. Lopez, standing behind a podium across
the room, tells the chief what his officers are doing to reduce
crime in his South End district. Harnett peppers him for details
about trends in burglaries and robberies.
Harnett, who marks his first anniversary
in the chief's job on Tuesday, is in his element here in the
weekly ritual called "Compstat." With his top deputies
beside him, Harnett, 61, can't get enough of this stuff - breaking
down the latest crime statistics that are projected on two large
screens behind the podium.
As one of the reformers who helped
revolutionize urban policing by developing the Compstat system
in the New York Police Department in the 1990s, Harnett has great
faith in the ability to fight crime by dissecting numbers, neighborhood
by neighborhood and block by block. The numbers give him the
ammunition to boast that crime is down 12.6 percent overall in
Hartford so far this year.
"I feel like we're making a difference for the people of
this city," he said, reflecting on his year in Hartford. "It's
been challenging, with a lot of ups and downs, but I like the
people I work with, and I like the success we're starting to
While Harnett is reassured by the
numbers, many residents and department critics feel otherwise.
They worry about violent feuds between young people and petty
disputes too often settled by gunfire. They're troubled by brazen
shootouts and a growing culture of fear and retribution on many
And they're alarmed that from Jan. 1 to June 11 this year, there
have been 11 murders, compared with six during the same period
in 2004 - a jump of 83 percent. As of June 11, the number of
shootings has risen from 49 last year to 75 this year, a 53 percent
increase, while the number of people shot has risen from 54 to
82 - a 52 percent increase.
Instead of watching computer screens to get a feel for city
crime, Harnett's critics say, he would do better checking out
the sidewalks on Colebrook Street, Madison Street, Bedford Street
and Seyms Street, where bloodstains can still be seen from a
series of recent shootings and beatings.
"I don't see a big improvement in public safety. If anything,
it's gotten worse," said Steven Harris, a former city council
member who is active in the North End, where much of the recent
gun violence has taken place.
Harris repeated a criticism of Harnett that the chief has heard
often in his first year, namely that he has not fully appreciated
how different Hartford is from New York, where he spent more
than three decades with NYPD.
"He's making the same mistake that a lot of people make
when they come here from somewhere else, especially a large city
like New York," Harris said. "He came in here and probably
thought, hey, this is Hartford. It's a small, manageable city.
How hard can it be? But Hartford is a tough place to be chief
exactly because it's small. The politics are fierce, and the
people are strong. They aren't going to roll over just because
you're from New York."
The city's gun violence crisis has become Harnett's greatest
challenge. A Bronx native, Harnett was hired last year by Mayor
Eddie A. Perez in large part because of his NYPD pedigree. After
earning notice as an aggressive narcotics enforcer, Harnett rose
to become part of the much-celebrated cadre of NYPD reformers
under then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and then-police Commissioner
William Bratton, Harnett's philosophical mentor.
Though he's aware of criticism, Harnett said he does not let
it shake his faith in the direction he's taking the department.
As a disciple of the community policing philosophy that helped
restore law and order to New York City, Harnett has introduced
a plan in Hartford that comes from the same playbook. His neighborhood
policing plan, introduced in February, divided the city into
four patrol districts with officers and supervisors responsible
for reducing crime in their respective zones.
Harnett believes in holding his commanders accountable for their
zones and empowering them to take the steps they need to fight
problems as they arise.
On this day at Compstat, Lopez tells Harnett that robberies
and burglaries are decreasing in his zone. He had one burglary
and two robberies in the past week. After questioning him for
details of each of the cases, Harnett lets Lopez sit down as
the next captain approaches the podium.
"Whatever you're doing, it's working," Harnett tells
Lopez. "But don't get too comfortable or feeling too good
about your numbers. It can always change."
The comments are vintage Harnett, complimentary yet cautionary,
with a heavy emphasis on statistical results.
The Bratton regime in New York City won widespread acclaim for
its weekly grilling of neighborhood commanders during Compstat
meetings, but many residents and community leaders in Hartford
said Harnett should not expect similar reviews here.
"I don't know what the police do in their building, but
I know people are losing faith in them on the streets," said
the Rev. Donald Johnson, a North End community activist. "That
plan sounds all well and good when you assign officers to patrol
our neighborhoods, but it won't do a damn thing if they don't
get out of the car and introduce themselves to us."
In recent days, the voices of Johnson and other activists have been joined by
other religious leaders, including the Rev. Terry Davis of the First Presbyterian
Church. He and 11 other clergy will read a statement in their houses of worship
today that asks for greater effort by the Hartford police to reach out to residents.
"For too many people in this city, the police are viewed
as an occupying force," Davis said. "We hear a lot
about the chief's plan, but it hasn't really taken hold, and
it won't until officers stop viewing their relationship with
the community with an us-vs.-them mentality."
Harnett said he understands the community's concerns, but stressed
that residents should withhold judgment for at least a few more
months until his plan can be fully put in place.
"I think there's some impatience out there," he said. "I
understand that. But the plan ... is only 4 months old. The problems
we're trying to solve took years to evolve, and the solutions
won't come with a magic bullet."
Many police critics say the department's relationship with the
community was dealt a crippling blow May 7, when an undercover
Hartford police officer shot and killed a city teenager and shot
another man in the chest. The slaying of Jashon Bryant, 18, who
is black, by veteran Officer Robert Lawlor, who is white, outraged
many people in the largely African American neighborhoods of
the North End, who have long viewed police with suspicion.
Hartford police are continuing their investigation into the
shooting, which occurred, Lawlor said, because he thought Bryant
was reaching for a gun. No gun has been found. Widespread concerns
by residents about the probe's objectivity recently led Chief
State's Attorney Christopher Morano to transfer supervision of
the investigation from Hartford State's Attorney James Thomas
- who has worked closely with HPD - to Waterbury State's Attorney
James Connelly. Connelly could also decide to take the case out
of the hands of Hartford police and hand it to another law enforcement
Harnett won points with some people in the North End when he
went to Bryant's funeral at the request of Bryant's father. The
chief appeared awkward when he walked into the church that day,
but he hugged Bryant's relatives and offered his condolences
before sitting next to Assistant Chief Darryl Roberts, who was
born and raised in the North End, for the service.
"Whatever the circumstances, the fact that this family
lost this young man is a tragedy," Harnett said at the time. "We
wanted to let the family know we sympathized with that loss."
Harnett defended the professionalism of the detectives assigned
to the Bryant investigation.
"We're fully capable of conducting a thorough review, but
because of the perceptions out there, I would not disagree with
a decision to have another agency investigate," he said.
Harnett said the growing amount of gun violence, especially
in the North End, will be addressed in a new initiative he plans
to present in about a week. In the meantime, he said, his policing
plan includes the creation of task forces, which have been in
place for a month and a half, to crack down on the city's gun
and drug trades. Lawlor was working alongside a federal agent
as a member of the new gun task force when he shot Bryant and
the second man last month.
After a year on the job, Harnett said he has been surprised
by the level of scrutiny his department receives, both in the
media and from community groups.
"It's been a surprise, an adjustment, yeah," said
Harnett, who did not do much community work in New York despite
his position as a department chief. "I certainly didn't
take this job because I crave the limelight, but I realize in
many ways I'm the face of the department, so it's important to
get out in the community and meet people. And I think I've done
Harnett has his supporters. Temple Shannon, a community leader
in the Blue Hills neighborhood, said she and her neighbors have
been pleasantly surprised to see more cruisers patrolling their
"These officers are assigned to work only in our neighborhood,
so we can really see the difference," Shannon said. "Problems
we've always had, like cars parked in the yards and noise, are
now being enforced. It's made our quality of life a lot better."
Harnett also has the strong backing of Perez, who selected him
despite widespread public support for former acting Chief Mark
R. Pawlina, who now works as one of Harnett's assistant chiefs.
Perez acknowledged that the increase in gun violence, as well
as the Lawlor shooting, have strained the department's relationship
with some residents, but he emphasized that Harnett has laid
the foundation for a more responsive, professional department.
"He's done exactly what I expected him to do, which was
get his hands around the department and empower the command staff
with an overall vision that demands accountability and results," Perez
said. "In spite of the shootings, I think there are a lot
of people out there who are confident he's doing the right thing."
Resident Jackie Maldonado said she is not convinced Perez and
Harnett are making a difference, but they are not the only ones
to blame for the city's troubles.
"I can see how it would be hard to be the police chief because
on one hand, you have people demanding that you protect them,
but then when you go and do what you have to do, they accuse
you of police brutality," Maldonado said. "The police
aren't perfect, but people need to work with them."
Harnett and Perez are being dogged by an ongoing legal battle
with a group of activists over a 32-year-old federal consent
degree that demanded more civilian oversight of the department
and greater sensitivity to minority residents. Both men have
had to testify in federal court about how much attention they
were paying to a recent court order that grew out of the 1973
case, and in doing so, they have contradicted one another at
Perez said he and Harnett
have not worked closely with the plaintiffs in the Cintron
vs. Vaughn case because it has become "politicized."
The group of watchdogs, which includes former Deputy Mayor Nicholas
Carbone, is vehement in its criticism of the chief and mayor,
saying they have ignored the recent court order. Carbone said
he has been disappointed by Harnett's tenure so far.
"I have no confidence in him," he
Harnett is also facing a continuing battle over his certification
as a Connecticut police officer. Because he was retired from
the New York force more than three years before assuming the
Hartford job, Harnett was ordered to undergo the same 600-hour
regimen of training that all new officers must take to work in
Connecticut, including several physical training courses.
Harnett and Perez are fighting that order by the state Police
Officer Training and Standards Council. The council plans to
meet this week, when Harnett is expected to receive a drastically
reduced order to undergo a minimum of 16 hours of training in
Connecticut law, said Thomas Flaherty, the council chairman.
Harnett was on the job only a few weeks when he had to deal
with several disciplinary issues, including an allegation that
a white supervisor ordered officers to arrest any members of
minorities who were spotted walking downtown in the pre-dawn
hours. Though the racial profiling allegation was not substantiated,
Harnett demoted the supervisor for a pattern of retribution against
officers who disagreed with him and streamlined the system by
which residents file complaints against officers.
While Harnett is viewed as a cop's cop by some, other Hartford
officers are less than enthusiastic about him.
Richard Rodriguez, the president of the police union, said the
chief's new policing plan is not much different from similar
plans adopted by previous chiefs. He said the department historically
has broken down the city into different districts, usually without
"Is it better than doing nothing? Yes. Was it well thought
out? No," Rodriguez said. "I would give him a C-minus
so far. He needs to communicate more, not only with the public,
but with his own officers."
Rodriguez said the chief's plan would work better if the department
had more officers to deploy in the various zones, which was a
key to the philosophy's success in New York. Right now, the Hartford
force has 430 sworn officers, up from about 400 a year ago.
"We have so many officers running around, going from call
to call, they have no time to get out of the car to meet people," Rodriguez
Harnett disagreed that his management style tends to be bureaucratic
and removed from people. And he is convinced that his plan can
effectively be carried out with the number of officers he has
"I try very hard not be aloof, and I think there are a
lot of people in the community who can attest to that," he
said. "There are always going to be critics, but I think
for the most part I've been able to work well with the people
here. I enjoy sharing success with them."
Besides acknowledging the political and professional challenges
of the job, Harnett said it has also taken a personal toll. His
wife of 38 years, MaryAnn Harnett, continues to live in their
home in New York state, while he lives in an apartment in Hartford.
"She's made a lot of sacrifices over the years, and this
is no different," said Harnett, the father of five grown
daughters. "She knows this is what I am, this is what I
do, but I miss her and my children and my grandchildren."
Asked how long he plans to stay in Hartford, the chief said
he had no clear exit strategy in mind.
"I want to stick around long enough to see the work that
we're doing begin to show results," he said, "but I
won't be here forever.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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