Reviewing 2009 statistics in the FBI Uniform Crime Reports (the most recent data available), there were more than 3,000 reports of violent crime in Greater New Haven that year. While most communities saw fewer than 50 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, Seymour, East Haven, Milford and Hamden recorded between 50 and 100, Ansonia and Derby were at the 100 mark, and West Haven’s reported violent crimes topped 700 in that year. The city of New Haven had nearly 1,800 reported violent crimes per 100,000 residents.
Responses on a survey taken in 2010 by middle school youthi in New Haven indicate that their level of involvement in and exposure to violence is significant:
- 34% reported having seem someone get shot or stabbed
- 17% reported having been involved in gang fights
- 11% reported having carried a gun/weapon
- 24% reported having hurt someone badly in a physical fight
- 54% reported having started a fistfight or shoving match
One of the innovative efforts to deal with youth violence in New Haven is the Street Outreach Worker Program, which began in 2007. Administered by the New Haven Family Alliance and funded since its inception by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, SOWP hires men and women with “street cred,” meaning they were involved in the criminal justice system themselves at one point and have turned their lives around, or they have a deep connection to the community through some kind of service. Shirley Ellis-West, the program supervisor, says five of the eight workers are ex-offenders. Another of the workers is the founder and long-time director of an award-winning drill team.
The program operates in partnership with the New Haven Police Department and the Board of Education and focuses on young people 13 to 21. The program operates out of all ten policing districts, but focuses on six high need neighborhoods. The workers spend time in the neighborhoods at key times just getting to know young people there: Sunday through Thursday, 2 p.m. until 10 p.m.; and weekends 7 p.m. until 3 a.m. “They frequent identified hotspots where youth are hanging,” West says. “They spend a lot of time doing what we call violence interruptions – young people involved in physical fights, arguments, adolescent behavior conflict.” They also conduct scheduled mediations with two or more individuals. In the beginning, many referrals came from the police. Now, West says, parents call on behalf of their own children, and youth refer themselves and their friends.
A community-based participatory research project, “Understanding Youth Violence in New Haven: A Photovoice Project with Youth of New Haven,
” was a research collaboration between the New Haven Family Alliance
, the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at Yale
, and a group of youth participating in the Street Outreach Worker Program. The goal of the project was to help identify, through the eyes and voices of young people directly impacted by youth gun violence, the root causes and effects of youth gun violence in their lives and in the City of New Haven. A report on the project
summarizes the key findings of this Photovoice Project
and offers recommendations for action that include increasing youth career and employment opportunities, coordinated strategies to address concentrated intergenerational poverty, establishing neighborhood community centers in high risk neighborhoods and having at least one of the street outreach workers be female.
While murder rates have generally declined in last 25 years, the trend in New Haven is more complicated. The murder rate trend is more jagged and less consistent than the decline seen in the overall violent crime rate. Part of this is because the small number of cases makes a bigger difference in the murder rate – the number of murders per 100,000 people. But according to David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, there is likely another explanation for the spikes.
In an October 2, 2011 interview with the New Haven Register, Kennedy said that many murders can be directly attributed to gangs, a small and violent segment of the City’s population. When a dispute between gangs creates a spark, violence explodes and murder rates soar.
West says that two truces between opposing groups of teens were agreed upon almost five years ago that are still intact, in Hill North and Dwight, adding, “Today there are definitely Bloods, Crips and other groups influencing young people” in New Haven. There were seven homicides in the target age group in 2011, and one as of May 1, 2012. All were African American young men. And most of the identified perpetrators are also young African American men. West says that, until the shooting death in October 2011 of 13-year-old Marquell Banks, no one under 16 had been killed since the outreach program began.
She notes that in 2010 there were 54 non-fatal shootings among 13- to 21-year-olds; this decreased to 48 in that age group in 2011; and stands at 12 through March 31, 2012. “When there's an incident we go to the hospitals, we talk to the young people to prevent retaliation.” The figure below shows an eight-year trend in violent crime arrests in New Haven and marks a general decrease in most types of crime in 2008 and 2009.