NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — The perfect storm – summer 2020 ushered in crisis-level violence in New Haven. Levels of violence not seen since 2011 when the Elm City was the 4th most violent city in the country. But what contributed to the spike and what are city leaders doing about it?
Both New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and the Police Chief Otoniel Reyes describe it as the perfect storm this summer. You have people growing weary from quarantine; historic COVID-19-related job loss; lots of people released back into the community from prison; and broken trust between the community and police.
On top of that, calls to defund the police and calls to add more police in a city where crime has soared to levels unseen for nearly a decade.
“Do you want to add more money to the police budget? Is it a decision that you would walk back?” we asked Mayor Elicker.
“No. I just don’t have the option to walk it back,” he replies.
New Haven police makeup the largest line item in the city budget. But Mayor Justin Elicker cut more than $4 million, including nearly 50 vacant positions.
By July, eleven people were killed and more than 50 wounded. More than all of 2019.
Advocates including Rev. Boise Kimber say neighborhoods want more officers on the beat.
“There’s a crisis that is going on,” Rev. Boise Kimber says. “The mayor needs to take his knee off the back of the chief.”
Police Chief Otoniel Reyes has been fielding pressure from protesters demanding less funding for the department and calls for more intervention from law enforcement from families who’ve lost loved ones to violence.
He was bred in the Elm City and used to patrol these same streets. He says officers walking the beat is not the solution.
“We did that and it led to mass incarceration and it led to other issues.”
While crime has spiked significantly during over the summer, Reyes says it’s far from what it once was.
“We can actually, honestly say that New Haven is a much safer city than it was in the 80s. Certainly in the 90s when I was growing up and even since 2011.”
Elicker says he wish he didn’t have to cut the department’s budget. He recently unveiled a commitment to re-invest in social services.
“Whether it’s mental health support, whether it’s support to address substance abuse, whether it’s housing,” Elicker says.
Elicker explains the root cause of New Haven’s problems are not exclusive to the Elm City, but due to deep inequities between cities and suburbs.
“The real way to resolve these issues around violence is not necessarily to put more police on the beat. That’s short term. But in the long term it is to invest in communities in meaningful ways to give people the opportunity to rise out of poverty.”
The chief tells News 8 the department has been focusing on getting guns off the streets and making arrests connected to the most violent incidents, including arrests that have saved lives and stopped retaliation.
From January to mid-August, New Hven police have taken 73 guns off the streets and arrested 81 people in connection with the violence.