Downtown Substation OK'd; North End Station Still Closed
By JENNA CARLESSO
September 21, 2011
HARTFORD —— In a Sept. 12 letter to the city council, Mayor Pedro Segarra outlined his plans for a police substation at the corner of Asylum and Main streets downtown.
The substation, which would be housed in a former newspaper kiosk, would help address "a recent increase" in violence in the area, Segarra said. The council approved the request the same day.
Now some city residents are questioning why city officials moved so swiftly to station police downtown when the department's substation in the city's North End, which has much more crime than downtown, has been closed for months. On Tuesday night, a shooting and a stabbing occurred in the North End.
"I don't understand that," said the Rev. Henry Brown, who has organized hundreds of prayer vigils in response to homicides in the city. "You'd think if they were going to put police any place it would be a high-crime area. You have to start where the problem needs to be taken care of.
"The North End needs a substation. I think they should put it where it would make a difference."
The Rev. Patrice Smith, a North End resident who is running for mayor as an independent, said additional law enforcement is needed in the Albany Avenue area.
"We need it more on Albany Avenue than on Asylum," she said. "There's a lot of crime here. People are selling drugs; we're losing our kids. What are they going to do about the North End?"
Segarra said his proposal for the downtown substation — the police are calling it a small satellite office — was in response to a fight that broke out nearby about a year ago involving several teenagers, some of them students.
In his memo to the council, the mayor said the satellite station would deal with "a recent increase in 'flash mob' violence around the northwest corner of Asylum and Main streets." The "flash mob" reference was because some of the teens had notified others that a fight would take place there beforehand through text messages and social media sites.
"It was becoming a place for these types of incidents to occur," he said.
Following last year's brawl, Segarra said, his office received calls from business owners concerned about their safety.
"They said something needed to be done to increase security in that area," he said.
Calixto Torres, chairman of the council's public safety committee, said one reason the council acted so quickly to approve the downtown satellite office is because school had just started. He said the corner is a high-traffic area with several bus stops.
In his letter to the city council, Segarra wrote that "the violence has made area business owners, their employees and their customers feel unsafe in the area and has brought negative publicity to Hartford via both print and electronic media."
But the head of the Downtown Improvement District said there hasn't been any repeat of the student fight a year ago that prompted the safety concerns.
Michael Zaleski of the Downtown Business Improvement District said he hasn't heard any recent complaints.
"The focus on the central business district — we welcome it — but we don't believe it's being located there to address a specific issue," he said.
"I know there were a couple of businesses last year that had concerns about the high-profile incident, but they've been addressed and we haven't seen anything close since then."
Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said there has been "a few skirmishes" at the corner of Main and Asylum streets, but nothing major since the brawl last year.
The police presence will also prove beneficial for people visiting the city, Segarra said. He noted that at least six "major conventions" are coming up in Hartford.
Brown said he supports having a greater police presence downtown to encourage tourism, but he said city officials also need to think about residents.
"Of course we want protection for the people coming in, but what are you saying for the people who live in Hartford?" he said. "Where is the protection for them?"
The kiosk was donated to the city for use as a police satellite office by its owner, Alkon Main Street LLC. Beth Judd, president of Konover Commercial Corp., the property manager, said the kiosk has been vacant for a year and the owner approached the city about donating its use. It was operated previously by AJ's Smokes and Sweets and Mumford News.
The city will enter into a month-to-month contract with the owner of the kiosk, and will only be responsible for covering the cost of utilities. Roberts said he hoped to put two police officers in the satellite office.
As for the Albany Avenue substation, the mayor said he plans to demolish it and build a new one in its place. The Police Activities League and a police substation will occupy the new facility, he said.
Demolition of the old building is set to take place within a month, Segarra said, and the new facility is in the planning stages.
In the meantime, officers stationed there have been to the headquarters on Jennings Road.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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