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Give Credit Where It's Due -- To The Police; Dispatches From Garden Street

Helen Ubinas

August 05, 2009

Three of Hartford's 20 homicides this year have occurred on Garden Street, another six nearby. Courant columnist Helen Ubinas and photographer Rick Hartford spend the week in and around the North End neighborhood talking to residents about living, and surviving, one of Hartford's tougher neighborhoods. Below are excerpts from her blog.

Tuesday: 11 a.m.

Right across the street from where two of the city's 20 homicides have occurred, just steps from the sidewalk memorial to one victim, sits the Greater Refuge Church of Christ. When I knocked on the door this morning looking for the bishop, Mancy Relph greeted me, instead. Relph's been a deacon here since 1975.

Back when he came to Hartford from Alabama looking for work and to further his education - but found a girl, instead. No regrets, he says laughing. He raised two daughters - no, not with that girl. Another woman who loved city life, so he settled in Hartford and has been here since.

Relph's seen lots of changes over the years; every day he sees reasons why - addiction, poverty. But for Relph, it all comes down to family - lack of it. No matter where these kids go - school, camp, it doesn't matter - their role models are their parents and if those parents aren't good role models, they're bound to get lost, he tells me as he leans on the door of the church.

He was raised by a strict Baptist minister who wanted him inside the house the minute it got dark. "The night air changes the complexion of the skin," he'd tell Relph, who still smiles when he recalls the story.

Parents, he said, would do well to remember that. You can see it, he tells me, the way the mood on the street changes when the sun goes down. Darkness hides too many sins that affect too many lives. And too few people on this street, he says, are actually living. "Existing," Relph says. "That's really all they're doing - and it's sad."

"When you're living, you have respect for other people, for property, for your own well-being. When you're living, you realize that life is valuable."

"And that," he said, looking over at the candles on the street, "is not what's happening here."

Tuesday: 7:30 p.m.

OK, brace yourselves - I'm about to pay the Hartford Police Department a compliment.

I know - but stick with me.

My critics can convict me of all sorts of things, but not of refusing to give credit where it's due - and it's due.

Something that's become clear in these few concentrated days I've spent in the city's North End is that the relationship between Hartford cops and residents has seemingly improved. Tensions that were so apparent just a few years back have seemed to soften, at least around the Garden Street area.

Cops out here are young, and new - which actually might help. The average years on the job is about five, I'm told. But there's a connection, a mutual respect, I haven't seen in a while. Again, this is based on a small section of the city, over just a few days ...

But here's just a few of the reasons I say that. I've watched officers actually get out of their cruisers and talk - respectfully - to residents.

I was skeptical about what an officer was up to when he suddenly stopped his cruiser next to a group of young boys. Turns out, he was just checking in with them. One of the boys actually had a big ol' smile on his face when the cop pulled away.

For the last few days, I've watched cops stop people for all types of motor vehicle violations; one cop gave someone a ticket for a broken windshield.

That's right - they're paying attention to quality-of-life issues.

I suppose it could explain the impressive turnout at one of Hartford's four National Night Out events at Albany and Adams. Plenty of residents, a whole lot of cops and a nice feeling of - wait for it - community.

In case you're not familiar with the national event, it's when residents in neighborhoods all across the country gather to show support for their local police department. And to send a message to criminals that neighborhoods belong to the people who live there, not those who prey on them.

Have we gotten to the point where officers and neighbors feel like they're on the same team?

Too soon to tell. But wouldn't that be nice - and about time?

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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