Hartford's Police and Its School Officials See Different Things
By Jeff Cohen
October 07, 2010
When it comes to small-time gangs in the city and its schools, Hartford’s police department and its board of education say different things. Police say they are concerned by gang activity, the schools say little or no such activity exists in their buildngs. WNPR’s Jeff Cohen reports.
At the heart of the issue is a question: What is a gang? Two years ago, gangs in the city meant violent, organized groups. For the past year or so, police have said they’ve been dealing with something different – fluid groups of young children getting into fights. They name their groups things like Coke Wave.
In 2009, the city applied for and got $500,000 from the federal government based in part on the premise that some kind of gang activity existed within the city’s schools. In a memo that supported the grant, police said, quote, “In 2009 the most alarming increase in gang activity has been documented within the public middle schools.”
That same memo went on to say, quote, “Our middle schools have reported a ‘prison yard’ atmosphere in the playgrounds between younger gang members.”
After the memo was made public, school Superintendent Steven Adamowski denied there was gang activity in the schools. And Police Chief Daryl Roberts said the report was outdated.
So that was last year. Now, here’s what police officers Steve Kessler and Anthony Rinaldi told WNPR earlier this summer. They are both community service officers in the city’s North End.
“Coke Wave and these newer gangs, it’s a little different with these elementary school kids that are coming up now in one of the fastest rising gangs out here now, it’s a little different. You don’t have these clear cut demarcation zones.”
“These gangs are originating in schools and maybe not so much for territory or anything else, but just to group together."
Kessler and Rinaldi said that what concerned them at the time wasn’t that the gangs were getting violent or out of control. What concerned them was that they could get violent or out of control.
Then, in early September, some fights broke out in the heart of downtown.
According to police, on Sept. 10, students from various schools planned a fight big enough that the police posted officers to keep watch in the days that followed.
“I can tell you there’s been 11 arrests.”
That’s police chief Daryl Roberts a week after the incident. The police department later revised its numbers – saying that only five students were arrested as a result of several fights in downtown Hartford over the course of a ten or so days.
At the time, WNPR asked Roberts whether or not the downtown fights between high school students showed any sign of gang activity.
Roberts: There’s a gang we believe – not really – a loose group, some group called Coke Wave, another called Strikers, another called the Taylor gang. These are all different.
Cohen: Coke Wave, Taylor Gang, Strikers – are they part of this? Is it related to this?
Roberts: We believe so. We believe there’s some gang affiliation. Now, how much, we don't know. We talk about gangs, I use the term loosely. Because these are kids who hang around each other, know each other, and they become a group. And what concerns me even more than that, though, Jeff, is the fact they’re now communicating by Twitter, by text messaging, and now other kids are showing up. You know, these things go out, I mean, they text two people, and it spreads like wildfire. Now you’ve got 50 kids, you know, gathering on one corner, and then someone throws a punch – and, guess what – the mob mentality, people start swinging, the crowd starts moving, and then you got like a mob scene.
But ever since the city got half a million dollars in part to address what it said was a gang problem within the city's schools, the schools have said that no such problems exist inside their walls. Despite what Roberts and his officers say, Superintendent Adamowski and his spokesman David Medina have repeatedly told board members and the public that there is, quote, “little or no gang activity inside Hartford operated schools.”
In an interview, Mayor Pedro Segarra said essentially this -- the police and the schools don't see things differently. They see different things.
"We do have kids that do belong to some gang and are also students in the school system. The school is looking at it from the perspective -- do we have any activity going on within the schools? Gang-like activity. The school administration, from my conversations with them, don't seem to feel that there is that gang activity that is of that caliber going on within the schools."
Segarra says that he may eventually have to do his own assessment of the situation. But he said that's not happening now.