by John Dankosky and Diane Orson – Today on Where We Live, we talked to the new Police Chief of New Haven. Frank Limon has walked into one of the toughest situations he could have imagined – a city plagued by a new flurry of violence that’s shaken up one of Connecticut’s great urban success stories. It’s a story that’s made the New York Times this week, in a piece by Peter Applebome.
Last year, it seemed like good news for the city – no killings in New Haven between March and October of last year. But since early October, the bad news is back. There have been 17 homicides, 11 since the start of this year – including Kenneth Thomas just a few days ago. There was one particularly deadly week with five killings. Just last night residents met to talk about ways to deal with the violence.
Limon steps into the middle of all this, bringing ideas from Chicago to the Elm City. The Yale Daily News called his plans “familiar tactics,” but he calls his big initiative “Operation Corridor” – targeting hot spots for violence with extra cops. He explains it below in this video from The New Haven Independent.
When Diane Orson talked with him yesterday, he told her what he’s gathered so far about these killings:
- This is not a gang war that we’re seeing. Instead, it’s individuals with personal conflicts, settling disputes with firearms.
- The profiles of the men are similar, most have criminal histories, many are probably gang members, but officials believe only 2 of the killings were actually related to gang activity.
- They say the problems are domestic violence, robbery, drugs and a large number of parolees, out of prison without supports for them to get back into society.
- The majority of these cases took place in the “criminal corridor” that Limon is trying to target.
This corridor runs through the neighborhoods of Dixwell, Newhallville, West River, Dwight and the Hill. Extra cops were there between 7 at night and 3 in the morning. But, its an expensive operation, and not really sustainable at that level for long. Limon says the idea is to stabilize things on the streets in the short term and then pull back the numbers and continue the process of building trust with residents.
Chief Limon also wants to bring another crime-fighting tactic from Chicago. He say hi-tech surveillance cameras helped to reduce violent crime and narcotics activity. He’d like to try the same thing in New Haven.
“You’re able to determine where the crime is occurring. We’re able to IP network those crime cameras right to either a squad car or right directly to a monitoring center.”
Chicago has one of the most extensive anti-crime camera systems in the country, with surveillance on light poles, skyscrapers, and on buses. Some cameras include gunshot detection technology, and can locate and zoom in the direction of where shots are fired. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano has already raised the idea of cameras to identify license plates of drivers who run red lights. The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed the use of these cameras, citing privacy concerns.
One big concern Limon is taking seriously? Why the investigations into these killings is taking so long. He’s just arrived from Chicago and says things move faster there – not so fast that unwarranted arrests are made – but, he says the pace is quicker. So he told Diane he’s making a point of investigating why crimes take longer to solve here in New Haven.
What about some of the long-standing problems plaguing the city, like distrust of the police in the neighborhoods? Chief Limon told Diane that he understands there’s work to be done, in building relationships with the community. He talked about helping neighbors and residents feel safe enough to come forward and talk to cops, or begin by talking to intermediaries like pastors. He told her that students should feel safe enough to talk with teachers and counselors about what they see, so cops and residents feel like they’re on the same side working to prevent violence.
The road back is long, though. It was just two years ago when New Haven’s former top narcotics cops was sentenced taking bribes and stealing drug money from crime scenes. Only a year before that, you had some residents in the Edgewood neighborhood involved in nightly armed citizen patrols because they felt like they needed to retake control of their neighborhood, and felt the New haven police weren’t stepping up to the plate.
Unlike past spurts of violence in Hartford, where State Police are regularly called in to work with local officials, Mayor Destefano says he has no plans to ask for help from the state.