Although Hartford Police Chief Patrick J. Harnett's appointment was greeted with skepticism two years ago, his retirement - announced last week -doesn't bode well for the city.
As Mr. Harnett promised when he took the job, overall crime in Hartford fell sharply after he restructured the department's manning procedures under the internationally recognized Command Status policing system, known popularly as Compstat.
Developed by Mr. Harnett's mentor, former New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, Comstat deploys officers in a way that quickly responds to crime statistics. Field officers face regular review of the data, are held accountable for any shortcomings and must explain how they plan to improve.
Unfortunately, Comstat has not been in place long enough in Hartford to become ingrained into the department's culture. Mr. Harnett's successor should not be tempted to tamper with the system and thereby ruin its effectiveness. Comstat relies heavily on police interaction with the community to help fight crime and places much of the decision-making authority in the hands of field commanders. That community interaction must continue.
Overall crime in Hartford had, as a result, dropped a respectable 12.5 percent by the beginning of 2006, including 800 fewer car thefts from the previous year and 300 fewer burglaries. The only sore spot in the statistics, admittedly a glaring one, is violent crime - homicides, aggravated assaults and shootings. Homicides went from 17 in 2004 to 25 in 2005; shootings ticked up from 152 to 161 and there were more than 100 additional aggravated assaults.
Lately, violent crime has been so prevalent that overall crime for 2006 is up 1.6 percent over the same period last year, even as all other categories of crime continue to plummet.
Mr. Harnett's success and credentials towered over those of many predecessors in the Hartford chief's job. A 32-year law enforcement veteran from the Bronx, he headed New York City's narcotics division in the 1990s, when it dismantled 900 drug gangs. Not a publicity hound, Mr. Harnett nevertheless made it a point to be visible at major crime scenes.
Mr. Harnett, who was recruited after a national search, is being replaced by Deputy Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts, an up-from-the-ranks insider with a stellar record. In announcing the surprise appointment, Mayor Eddie A. Perez said Mr. Roberts will provide continuity for the policies and programs set in place by Mr. Harnett. That's the hope and expectation.
But the mayor would have been well-advised to launch a wider search so that he could have picked from a pool of qualified candidates.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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