Fewer Killings: Numbers show city is safer; new program will help
Hartford Courant Editorial
November 27, 2012
To say, as Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra does, that Hartford is safer than it was five years ago is not to claim victory; it is to spot a trend. The capital city still endures too much crime. But there are signs that the city is beginning to turn the corner.
A gang violence reduction project announced Tuesday in New Haven, which officials hope to bring to Hartford as well as Bridgeport, should add more impetus to the peacemaking efforts. That program, called Project Longevity, was developed by criminologist David M. Kennedy and focuses on the relatively small number of miscreants who commit most of the violent crime in a community.
The focal point of the program is a kind of intervention, or "call-in." Police and prosecutors, as well as ministers, social service workers and community leaders, call gun-toting young gang members into a room, sometimes with their parents. The officials tell the young men, who are often on parole or probation, that the violence is over, that if anyone in the room shoots another person, law enforcement will come down hard on the entire group.
If, on the other hand, they want to get out of the gang life, drug treatment, job training and education will be made available.
This approach has worked, sometimes remarkably well, in cities from Boston and Providence to Cincinnati and High Point, N.C.
State and local officials have been working on this quietly for a year, and have identified the right places to start. Of 129 Connecticut homicides last year, 94 took place in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford.
Though Hartford should embrace the new program, it already has begun to bring its homicide numbers down. As The Courant reported Monday, if the city can get to the end of the year without another killing, the 20 homicides in 2012 will be the lowest number since 2004 and one of the lowest totals in the past three decades — not that 20 killings is anything to crow about.
In addition to homicides, serious crime is down in most categories over the past four years. The city has seen drops in the number of murders, rapes, burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts, so despite a slight increase in robberies and an increase in aggravated assaults, there has been an overall reduction of 13.2 percent in serious crime. Also, the number of shooting victims has dropped from 198 four years ago to 107 so far this year.
So the numbers tell us that there has been measurable improvement, but that the job is a long way from done.
WHY CRIME IS DOWN
From the law enforcement perspective, what appears to be working is a better coordination of resources, focused around the Hartford Shooting Task Force, a city-state effort that began in 2011 with the goal of reducing gun crime in Hartford. Also, Chief James Rovella has increased coordination with city schools, which hopefully will get help to at-risk youngsters before they apprentice themselves to shooters or drug dealers.
These steps are all positive. What is not yet clear is whether rank-and-file city residents are ready to work with police — to, as the expression goes, give up the shooters. That's the real test, and there are signs — groups such as Mothers United Against Violence taking part in protests and community leaders speaking out — that residents are fed up and ready to cooperate. Let us hope.
The city has brought down crime at a time of economic hardship — no small feat. Hartford has by far the highest unemployment rate, 15.7 percent, in the state. Job training isn't much good without a subsequent job. If we could find a way to pull that sword from the stone, get the unemployment number down, even to the state average of 9 percent, what a difference it would make.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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