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The People Know The Bad Guys

July 13, 2006

The advice for Police Chief Daryl Roberts last night flowed almost as swiftly as the good cheer. I've been to a few of these ceremonies, and I've never seen people so unabashedly overjoyed; they chanted the new chief's name, gave him a couple standing ovations.

Keep that door open.

Show your face. Don't be Patrick Harnett, a guy who always seemed a lot more comfortable with numbers than people.

But the best crime-busting advice I've heard lately came from someone who wasn't at Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony for the man the city has dubbed the "Son of Hartford."

It came from Brian Sullivan, another son of Hartford, who is about nine years into a 28-year sentence for a string of robberies. Sullivan wrote me a few weeks ago from MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, saying he wanted to talk about the violence in Hartford and his experiences.

He's had experiences aplenty, but one that stuck with me was his story about a 1997 break-in in Middletown. While his accomplices taped the homeowner to a chair and ransacked the house, Sullivan raided the fridge. There wasn't much in it. I can't afford much food, the homeowner said. So Sullivan left some money behind.

"I know it sounds crazy, but it was the right thing to do," Sullivan told me. I thought it said something about him; the judge was less impressed.

What also struck me was how sadly typical Sullivan's story is. He was just 12 when he picked up his drug habit from his mother, who used to bring him along when she scored. He, in turn, took his own son to gang meetings; the son is now imprisoned for carjacking. Sullivan was incarcerated when three of his four children were born.

But it was Sullivan's take on the mess in Hartford that really caught my attention.

When he was running the streets, he said, it was never the cops he feared. It didn't matter who the chief was, or how many cops they put out to deal with crime and violence, he and every other thug out there knew the game: Wait them out; the cops would leave eventually.

The community, though, was a different story.

"Almost every time I got busted, it was by someone in the community," he said. Someone who knew who the criminals were, and told the police.

That doesn't happen in Hartford anymore, and it's a tragedy. When a 13-year-old girl was shot and killed in front of her New Haven home in June, community information led to arrests just days later. There have been no arrests in the shooting death of a 15-year-old in Hartford that same month.

Some say residents are too afraid to speak up; Sullivan has an answer for them: Criminals "might want to target one person who speaks out," he said. "but they will not target an entire community."

The question is, can Daryl Roberts mobilize the entire community?

If the rousing, standing-room-only ceremony was any indication, the answer is yes. And speaking from his experience, Sullivan agreed.

Sullivan said he had one run-in with Roberts, years ago when he tried to sell him and another undercover cop some drugs. Even back then, Sullivan said, folks knew there was no outrunning him.

If Roberts - a Bulkeley High School track star - didn't literally catch you, Sullivan said, his deep connections in the community would lead him to you eventually.

"It was always just a matter of time, he said.

Funny, that's just how folks described Roberts' appointment to top cop Wednesday.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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