State's Latest Anti- Violence Plan: "Call In" Gang Leaders
By DENISE BUFFA
November 27, 2012
In May, a 3-year-old girl was shot as she was caught in the crossfire of rival gangs in Bridgeport.
In October, a 1-year-old boy was shot in a drive-by shooting while being held by his aunt on a front porch in New Haven.
Although violent crime rates have dropped the past year in Connecticut, officials said shootings and homicides are all too common in New Haven and the state's two other largest cities: Bridgeport and Hartford.
Against that backdrop, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney David Fein, Gov. Dannel Malloy and others marking the first statewide launch of Project Longevity, an initiative aimed at building a partnership between community members, service organizations and law enforcement to deter homicides and shootings. The project -- devised by John Jay College Prof. David Kennedy -- has been credited with success in other cities, but has never before been used across an entire state.
Malloy noted that of the 129 homicides in Connecticut last year, 94 of them occurred in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford. Almost all involved guns, and men of color, he said.
The partnership, already forged in New Haven, will also be initiated in Bridgeport and Hartford, officials said.
In New Haven, researchers from the University of Cincinnati, the University of New Haven and Yale University studied police and other data -- and identified gangs and groups most responsible for the violence, according to Fein. Nineteen groups composed of fewer than 600 people were found to be responsible for almost all the violent crime, Malloy said.
On Monday, those considered the most dangerous individuals living in New Haven were called in to meet the powers that be -- and given a choice: put down the guns or suffer the consequences.
"The simple, unified message was clear: The community needs the violence to stop, there are people who will help you choose a better path, and if you don't, the enforcement consequences are certain," Fein said.
At Monday's "call-ins," considered a critical component of the Project Longevity strategy, Alicia Caraballo -- principal of adult education for the New Haven Board of Education -- discussed with the approximately 25 attendees the shooting death of her 24-year-old son in New Haven in April 2008. At Tuesday's press conference, she urged those responsible to stop the violence before she hears another New Haven youngster has become the latest fatality in the war on gangs and guns.
"Every single time it's a reminder. It's like I have lost my son again," she said.
"We know that the roots of gun violence run deep. We also know we cannot arrest our way out of this disastrous condition..." Barbara Tinney, executive director of the New Haven Family Alliance, said during the press conference. "...It will take a whole community to stand up and say, 'Not one more.' "
Nearly a dozen organizations have been working for the past several months to devise a way for people who want to change their lives to access the various services available, according to Tinney.
But, there needs to be consequences for those who decide to continue to be violent, injuring or killing a neighbor, Tinney acknowledged. Law enforcement made it clear to those called in that Longevity is an unprecedented partnership -- and that if the violence doesn't stop, not only will those responsible, but also their associates, pay the highest of penalties.
"In other words, those who engage in violence will self-select themselves and their associates for the absolutely focused attention of law enforcement," Fein said.
He introduced Holder, who pledged the U.S. Justice Department's support of Project Longevity.
"By identifying and targeting the groups that are responsible for violence throughout this city -- and, eventually, the entire State of Connecticut -- Project Longevity will send a powerful message to those who would harm their fellow citizens: that such acts will not be tolerated; that they will be swiftly met with clear, predictable consequences, and that help is available for all those who wish to break the cycle of violence and gang activity," Holder said.
The entire support of the community is needed to make Project Longevity -- funded by federal, state and local dollars -- a success, according to the governor.
"That means parents, clergy, neighborhood leaders, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles -- everyone working toward one goal," Malloy said, "We are working to regain the trust of the African American and Latino communities. We need their help. The lives of these young people are too valuable not to act."
The governor stressed that Project Longevity will complement other changes the state has already made in connecting services to individuals through the departments of social services, labor and correction. He stressed that Project Longevity must become a statewide project, ultimately including cities like Stamford, Norwalk, Danbury, New Britain and New London.
"We will not tolerate gun violence in our neighborhoods. We will not tolerate gun violence around our schools," he said.
The governor's Under Secretary for Criminal Justice, Michael Lawlor, said the state legislature approved $500,000 for "Focus Deterrence" last spring that has helped fund Project Longevity's initial research. About $130,000 in discretionary federal grants as well as $50,000 provided through the U.S. Department of Justice's Project Safe Neighborhoods have also been use to fund Longevity, officials said.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he hoped to make the statewide initiative a nationwide one, saving not only lives, but dollars. He said the Senate Judiciary Committee would be studying Connecticut's progress.
"What this project says, with that name, 'Longevity,' is that these partners are in it it for the long haul. They're going to stay with it and stick to it..." Blumenthal said. "This project has the potential to be a national model."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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