As Hartford reeled from a violent weekend during which two men were killed just hours apart, city leaders on Monday promised to bring more police to fearful neighborhoods.
Mayor Luke Bronin, speaking Monday at city hall, said that the police department will continue increased staffing in areas where crime statistics show “a spike in violence or a risk of increased violence.”
One such area was the neighborhood around Durham Street, where two men were shot, one fatally, during what police suspect was a dispute over drugs Friday evening. As officers worked to gather information on that slaying, a gunfight between four men erupted on Albany Avenue near Woodland about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, leaving one dead and one clinging to life with what police called “extremely critical injuries.”
Police were still investigating Monday and had not identified the victims, who are the 21st and 22nd homicide victims of 2017 in Hartford.
Police officials say the neighborhoods where the shootings took place — Blue Hills and Upper Albany — have benefited recently from “additional resources” driven by an increase in the number of shootings.
Deputy police Chief Brian Foley said Monday that going forward, those neighborhoods will get more uniformed patrols, plainclothes officers and resources from the detective bureau. The move, Foley stressed, “is a specific response to the activity from over the weekend.”
Blue Hills has already received more uniform patrols on weekends, Foley said, and it was those extra officers who were first on the scene Friday on Durham Street.
“Unfortunately, with all the cameras and all the extra officers, the fact is that these things still happen, and I think it speaks to the desperation of the situation that some people in our city face,” Foley said. “Even knowing that the cops are there, knowing that the cameras are there.”
It’s no secret, however, that the capital city’s police force is not at full strength — it’s shy about 100 officers, and faced 25 retirements in the last fiscal year alone. In light of that personnel shortage, these increased deployments will cost the city. But Bronin doesn’t seem deterred.
“Obviously that comes with an overtime cost, but we are prioritizing public safety and we are ensuring that we are maintaining the level of presence and the level of staffing in our neighborhoods as the chief and our command staff think necessary, and that’s not driven by how many police officers we have on staff,” he said. “Obviously, sustaining that all the time becomes difficult, and that’s why we are focused on recruiting actively, aggressively and continuously.”
Hartford recently started a class of 21 recruits, and an earlier class of 16 recruits graduated from the academy Sept. 8.
Regardless of how the officers are deployed, city officials are calling for the plan to be developed with help of residents in those communities.
City Council President Thomas “TJ” Clarke II lives about two blocks from Durham Street, and said that his neighbors are outright fearful of the violence that has reached their stretch of the city.
“Whatever we do in this city for public safety, we need some buy-in from the neighborhoods,” he said. “The [neighborhood revitalization zones] and block watches need to work hand-in-hand with the police. There needs to be a neighborhoodwide communication as to what is our quality-of-life plan and our public-safety plan.”
Clarke said he’s motivated to host a community forum on the issue, similar to one he organized earlier in the summer.
Bronin agrees the solution will involve more than just raw manpower.
“In addition, an important part of this is staying engaged with our community partners,” Bronin said. “We have a number of community partners that do important work in the wake of violence to try to reduce any possibility of retaliation, to try to intervene, to work directly with families and with those who have been involved, and we’ll continue that.”
Bronin said he spent the hours since this weekend’s spate of violence working with community partners, even taking walking tours of the neighborhoods where the shootings occurred.
Other community leaders say the neighborhoods must work from within to solve their issues, even as the city offers its help.
“There has to be a lot of education, lot of outside support for people who don’t want this to happen where they live, but don’t have the necessary backup to stand up and say something,” the Rev. Ashley “AJ” Johnson said. “Most people want drug dealers out of their neighborhood, but they are afraid to get that person out due to fear or retaliation of particular people.”
Johnson, the head of Urban Hope Refuge Pentecostal Church and a member of the Christian Activities Council in Upper Albany, said that community groups must be willing to “stand in the gap, at the risk of our grants and funding, to support our residents.”
His words echoed those of the Rev. Henry Brown, an anti-violence activist behind Mothers United Against Violence.
“We have to do better, we can’t put this on the police; they can’t be everywhere at one time,” Brown said. “We need to start policing our own community. We need to be the ones saying, ‘No more violence.’”
Brown’s group is hosting a protest march Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., during which its members will drag a coffin from the intersection of Albany Avenue and Garden Street to the site of Saturday’s homicide. The theme of the event, Brown said, is removing the veil of silence around city killings.
“We constantly want to blame everybody, but we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing to save lives,” Brown said. “Until we start talking about these issues, we won’t be able to stop these killings.”