As 2017 Ends, Hartford Police, Residents Address Homicides

The number of homicides in Hartford doubled this year over last, a fact that can’t be argued.

But the underlying issues, and the way they affect residents in Hartford, are seemingly too complex to be reduced to simple numbers, as officials and citizens alike explain.

There were 29 homicides recorded in Hartford in 2017, up from 14 last year, according to police.

Of those, 23 involved firearms, according to police. Investigators, as of Friday, have made 17 arrests connected to homicides that occurred this year.

The increase comes at a time when major cities across the country, including New York, Los Angeles and even Chicago are marking reductions in homicide rates and violent crime.

Some of those murders, police argue, are difficult, if not impossible for them to prevent, such as the lethal neglect Matthew Tirado allegedly faced at the hands of his mother, or the violent domestic outburst that Albert Byrd’s family said killed him on Dec. 1.

And as Hartford police and state officials point out, 2016 was an outlier in the capital city: A year earlier, the final homicide total was 31 — the highest in a five-year span.

“Last year was the lowest number on record since we began tracking homicides in the early ’80s,” Deputy Police Chief Brian Foley said. “There are so many factors that can cause the homicide number to vary, like the accuracy of the shooters, how quickly the shooting is called into EMS, how far away EMS is, how far away victim is from hospital, and the staffing they have the hospital. And, sometimes, just plain luck as to where a person gets shot.”

Mayor Luke Bronin, speaking on the cusp of a new year, doubled down on the focus his administration has given to technology and to prisoner re-entry after release when it comes to public safety.

“We have to stay focused on those strategic priorities that we laid out last year — recruiting the next generation of police officers, making better use of technology both to solve and to deter crime, and working hard on youth engagement and youth employment,” Bronin said. “But there’s no question that we also need to do more to deal with the challenge of successful re-entry — as well as effective, focused deterrence for those who we know have a history and who we know pose a threat.”

Foley said a better indicator of violent crime in a city, regardless of its size, is the number of shootings it sees in a given year. In 2017, as of Tuesday, Hartford saw 132 shootings, Foley said. That’s the same number as 2016, and six fewer than 2015.

“In our eyes, one homicide is too many,” Foley said. “One is concerning, and every one after that is equally painful and concerning, but we’re going to keep focusing on keeping the numbers trending down, and we believe they are.”

Taking an even longer look back, the decline is more noticeable. Murder reached a high-water mark in Connecticut in the ’90s, with 215 recorded in the state in 1994, according to FBI crime statistics.

Of those, 53 occurred in Hartford, a city beset by gang violence at the time.

Michael Lawlor, the undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning in the state’s Office of Policy and Management, agreed with the assessment from Foley — that the number of homicides isn’t the only metric worth studying in a city.

“Overall, homicides are just one barometer,” Lawlor said. “You need to look at total number of shootings, which are also down, as are the number of arrests. As a general rule, if arrests are down, it’s a good indication that reported crimes are down, too.”

Lawlor points out that, over the last four years, Connecticut has had the biggest statewide reduction of violent crime rates in the country. That reduction is at 20 percent since 2012, as reflected in data from the FBI.

Still, about half of the violent crime in the state each year is recorded in its three largest cities, Lawlor said. And for people living in Hartford, no amount of statistics can ease that reality.

“How do we accept an environment that allows us to have an issue with public safety?” asked Kelvin Lovejoy, a student minister at Farmington Avenue's Muhammad Mosque 14. “High unemployment, education inequality, the destruction of families that live in North and South End— we still have all these undergirding issues that are really at the core of violence and public safety.”

Over the past year, Lovejoy has worked with some of the city’s youth in the North End in a “stop the violence campaign” that seeks to curb crime with education. But he said that any change to the city has to come from within.

“How do we restore families, how do we restore the culture of the folks who live in Hartford?” he asked. “I’m not saying parents and their children today; I mean the grandparents and great grandparents, the people who always talk about a culture they remember that helped keep the community safe.”

“Over the last 40 years, we’ve seen an erosion of that culture,” Lovejoy added. “Now, we’ve got to do something on the proactive side, rather than just have vigils on corners where people have been killed.”

Carl Hardrick agreed. Through his position as an ambassador for the Wilson Gray YMCA Crisis Intervention Team, Hardrick has had first-hand experience with both homicide suspects and victims. This year, that included Keon Huff, the 15-year-old shot inside the hallway of a North End apartment building in the spring.

Hardrick echoed Bronin’s concerns about those returning from prison and about the city’s youth. But he argues that not enough is being done to help them.

“For the older guys, we need industry to step up a little bit and take a risk on them, be willing to take on people who have been locked up and want to change,” Hardrick said. “And for the kids, well, we have to get to them early, get them ready for jobs.

“The faster we get them learning, and the faster we get failing schools up to par, the fast we can change,” he added.

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