Hartford Ranks High
On Gun Violence, Comparative Numbers For 2005 Show
July 3, 2005
By MATT BURGARD And STEPHANIE REITZ, Courant Staff Writers
Bridgette Smith knows gun violence is bad where she lives, on Martin Street
in Hartford. Two people have been shot and killed on her block in the past
month, and she hears gunfire nearly every night.
"You got all these kids running
around with guns. It's not safe to step out onto the street,
even in the daytime," said Smith, 43, who has lived in the
North End her whole life. "It's as bad as I've ever seen
it up here."
Worse, in fact, this year than in Providence, Bridgeport and Worcester,
all cities with larger populations. And worse than in New Haven;
Waterbury; Richmond, Va.; Paterson, N.J.; and Fall River, Mass.
Of 10 Eastern cities similar in population and demographics surveyed
by The Courant, only Syracuse, N.Y., has a higher rate of gun violence
than Hartford when measured by the number of shooting victims per
100,000 in population. Syracuse attributes much of its recent gun
violence to a resurgence of gang rivalries.
And only Richmond surpasses Hartford in the rate of gun murders
per 100,000 residents this year.
Hartford police link the spike in gun crime to a dangerous new
culture among young people that stresses the need to be armed
for protection and a willingness by youths to settle even trivial
disputes with guns.
Though some of the disputes have involved traditional beefs
over drug territory, many have erupted over arguments about stolen
bicycles, jilted girlfriends or neighborhood rivalries.
"It's the kind of stuff that you used to see kids getting
into fistfights about, only now they're using guns," said
Hartford Assistant Police Chief Mark R. Pawlina. "There's
a total breakdown in civility or respect for life among some
of these kids."
Through June 20, 90 people had been shot in Hartford in 2005,
which is a rate of 74 shot for every 100,000 residents.
By comparison, Providence's rate - 35 people shot per 100,000
residents - is less than half of Hartford's. The rate in Bridgeport
and Worcester, both of which have larger populations than Hartford,
is a fraction of Hartford's rate.
Hartford officials emphatically point out that serious crime
is down overall in the city this year. There have been sharp
declines in rapes, robberies, larcenies and burglaries.
Hartford Police Chief Patrick J. Harnett has responded to the
city's gun violence by increasing patrols and undercover investigations
in targeted North End neighborhoods. He declined to comment on
The Courant's survey.
"I have too much going on to take care of in Hartford.
I can't worry about what's going on elsewhere," said Harnett,
who completed his first year on the job in June. "There
are all kinds of things that can explain what's happening here
as opposed to what's happening [in other cities].
"I don't really care
to get into that kind of discussion."
At the request of Gov. M. Jodi Rell, state troopers will begin
patrolling in the city this week to help try to curb the gun
violence. The troopers, who will patrol alongside Hartford officers,
are expected to stay for several weeks.
Many of the victims of gun violence this year have been teenagers.
One of the latest shooting victims is a 16-year-old Kensington
Street boy, who was shot in the chest Tuesday and was hospitalized
in critical condition.
A passing motorist spotted Tykawan Blunt, slumped and bleeding,
at the corner of Garden and Nelson streets, police said. Blunt
refused to answer detectives' questions about the shooting -
another symptom of the pervasive street culture in Hartford,
"They feel like it's a sign of weakness to cooperate with
the police, so they don't tell us anything even though they know
who shot them," Pawlina said. "It's something that
makes it very difficult for our detectives to develop information."
David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Control at John
Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said much of the
gun violence in many cities starts with petty disputes that often
"Almost none of it is about business," he
"Almost all of it is
about respect, boys and girls, social friction and social vendettas
as they get played out on the street."
While it is not unusual for
one category of crime to spike while others drop - as has occurred
this year in Hartford - increases in gun crimes often can be
traced to a "quite small, super-heated
group" of people committing various types of crimes, Kennedy
The violence often stems from
clashes over issues such as "respect
and disrespect, and back-and-forth violence that tends to feed
on itself," Kennedy said.
Kennedy was one of the architects
of the Boston Gun Project program, which intended to reduce
gang-related and juvenile shootings in that city. The main
program, "Operation Ceasefire," was
credited with a two-thirds reduction in homicides in 1996 among
people aged 24 and younger.
It carried the message that there would be swift and severe
consequences for violence and that police would swarm over an
entire group for all sorts of offenses, not just those people
involved in the particular incident, Kennedy said.
At that point, he said, the trouble-prone people often start
policing themselves rather than taking the chance that one person's
actions could draw police attention to everyone else.
He said other cities can adopt that approach, teaming it with
extra help from social-service providers and a widespread declaration
that the entire community - not just its police department -
is fed up with the violence.
Hartford residents like Bridgette Smith have demanded more police
on their streets.
"These kids are out of control," she
"You could be standing
here and some kid will drive up and start firing. It's crazy."
In addition to adding patrols in the North End and teaming up
with state troopers, Hartford police are also working with more
agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
and Explosives to find and confiscate illegal guns. In the last
two months, a new gun task force seized 48 guns, police said.
Police in other Northeastern cities say they have reduced gun
violence with measures ranging from redeploying current officers
to sending undercover police into neighborhoods to root out gun
dealers and buyers.
In Worcester, for example,
the police department started a "split
force" program to divide uniformed officers between those
who answer 911 calls and those who work in problem-plagued neighborhoods,
said Worcester police Sgt. Gary Quitadamo.
"Those officers are free from answering calls, so they
can tackle specific problems before they get out of control," Quitadamo
At this time last year, Worcester had 33 reported shooting victims,
including eight who died. Up to June 20 of this year, those numbers
had dropped sharply: Ten people had been shot, and two of them
Hartford is among many cities that have teamed up with federal
agencies to combat gun crime through the federal Project Safe
Neighborhoods program. Agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement
Administration and the ATF help local police seize guns and arrest
people who possess, use and sell them illegally.
Hartford joined the program in 2002, at the same time that New
Haven and Bridgeport signed on. Waterbury and Stamford joined
a year later.
Since then, officials in the other cities have said the program
helps keep gun violence under control. In Hartford, however,
previous Police Chief Bruce P. Marquis did not embrace the program
or make it a top priority, said U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O'Connor,
who coordinates the program in Connecticut.
"Frankly, the reason that Project Safe Neighborhoods did
not get off the ground in Hartford initially is that the [previous]
leadership of the police department did not believe in the program," O'Connor
Hartford took many of the same actions as other cities - assigning
officers to work with federal agents, requiring parolees to meet
with police and prosecutors and pushing for federal prosecution
of convicted felons caught with guns - but not with the vigor
of the other cities, O'Connor said.
For example, police officials were not aggressive about tracking
down offenders who skipped the mandatory meetings, O'Connor said,
nor did they dedicate as many experienced officers to the program
as other cities did.
"They were doing everything in Hartford that other communities
were doing, but they just weren't doing it as well," O'Connor
Marquis, who left on Jan. 1, 2004, to take over the police department
in Norfolk, Va., often battled with Mayor Eddie A. Perez about
O'Connor said Marquis may have had legitimate reasons at the
time for his lukewarm reception to Project Safe Neighborhoods.
Hartford is now trying to
catch up, O'Connor said. Harnett "has
truly embraced the program."
"We don't put hard limits or deadlines on these things,
but I think you should see changes within the first year or so," O'Connor
Speaking through Norfolk Police Department spokesman Chris Amos,
Marquis on Friday said he wishes Perez and the city success in
the program, but would rather not comment, deferring to Harnett.
Hartford officials recently met with Waterbury police leaders
for advice on reviving the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative.
Waterbury officials focused much of their energy on locating
the guns and getting them off the streets before they could be
used in acts of violence.
Waterbury has confiscated more than 100 guns in a series of
sweeps since joining Project Safe Neighborhoods in 2003, Sgt.
Chris Corbett said.
In Bridgeport, the Project Safe Neighborhoods program includes
weekly meetings of local, state and federal law enforcement officials
to review every incident involving gun violence, illegal sales
and gun possession by a convicted felon.
"Over the course of the last three or four years, the word
has gotten out there that if you get caught with a gun, you can
get charged federally, and they know that's a more severe sentence
than a state sentence," Bridgeport Det. Lt. James Viadero
"For us, the Project Safe Neighborhoods program has
definitely had the biggest impact on lowering gun violence."
A discussion of this story with Courant Staff Writer Stephanie
Reitz is scheduled to be shown on New England Cable News each
hour Tuesday between 9 a.m. and noon.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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