In my opinion, and the opinion of many people I speak with, the one major issue keeping Hartford from any significant turn around is the perception of crime and public safety in Hartford.
I like Chief Roberts, I think he is an honest man who really cares about the city he was raised in. I know that he is constantly being told to do more with less. He has many empty promises made to him by Mayor Perez. The most notable probably being the false promises of hiring new officers. At the rate that new officer's are being funded, the Hartford Police Department is just barely keeping up with attrition.
The staffing levels could also jeopardize stimulus funding that has been given to the City for new officers. Under the contract, HPD and the City of Hartford committed to maintaining the number of sworn Police Officers at 460 minimum. Police sources familiar with the numbers tell me that by years end the number of officers could be well below that and jeopardize the stimulus funds.
A few things that really make me wonder about the Perez Administrations commitment to Public Safety in Hartford are quite obvious. One recent example is yesterdays posting about the conditions at the Southend Police substation on Maple Avenue. The are covered by this substation, the Southeast District of the city has seen some of the most impressive numbers in crime reduction and stability for the entire city.
These improvements haven't just happened by luck. A new lieutenant was assigned to the area and strong accountability was put into place. This also was accomplished by building a strong team effort by the officers working in the district. That can only be done by building morale among the officers, and forcing them to work in an office with no heat or air conditioning, to me, doesn't build or maintain morale.
The solution to that situation is simple, a directive from the Mayor to the Public Works Director... get it fixed and get it fixed immediately. I guess that might take some leadership and we all know who is Mayor.
And if you want to talk about morale, how about the carrot on the stick that keeps getting dangled in front of members of the Department. A new state of the art Public Safety Complex that was started at least 5 years ago, if not more, and is now further behind than it ever was.
I remember the first groundbreaking was held years ago under the administration of Chief Harnett. Then the second "groundbreaking" was again held toward the end of the tenure of Chief Harnett. Then the third "groundbreaking" was held under the tenure of Chief Roberts. For those that recall, Chief Roberts wasn't at that dog and pony show because it was shortly after his public comments that Hartford had a "toxic relationship" with itself and we had "lost our moral compass" and he was not in good favor with Perez.
Now, several million dollars later, the new Public Safety Complex is a pile of rubble and a testament to the Perez Administration's commitment to Hartford's Public Safety.
These things all add up to a total lack or respect and no effort to build morale in the Police Department. But one of the most glaring issues that confirms that Perez just doesn't give a damn , is really a simple fix.
For the last few years, Hartford has suffered from a lack of police cruisers. This is due to several reasons, the most popular thing for community people to throw out is that the cops abuse the vehicles and they crash them as soon as they get them. Point taken, but it is also a stark reality that police cruisers get damaged and crash. The solution may go back to training and more defensive driving classes for officers who have a problem driving. Save older vehicles for newer officers coming onto the street until they have proven themselves as capable drivers.
I don't want to see any officer wreck a car, but I'd rather see them wreck a dog of the fleet with 200,000 miles than a brand new vehicle with 1,200 miles on it. The other problem when a cruiser is wrecked is that it is not always the officers fault.Even if someone elses insurance pays the city for the loss, the money goes back into the City's General Fund, rather than replace the vehicle.
The reason for writing this is because of tonight's evening shift at the Police Department. The PD is so short of vehicles, tonight's evening shift had 9, yes nine, cruisers "doubled up". That means that because of the shortage of cruisers, 9, yes nine, officers were riding with another officer because they had no car. So, in essence where there would normally be 18 cruisers patrolling, there are instead nine cruisers with two officers in them.
That drastically effects police response times and police coverage when you cut the number of cruisers able to respond to calls in half. Some calls do require two officers to respond, but many do not. It also cuts police visibility in neighborhoods in half.
There is a lot more, but I think the point is clear that the lip service of the Perez Administration doesn't translate to a strong commitment to Hartford's crime problems and efforts to correct Hartford's image.
I guess it is difficult for a Mayor under arrest and on trial and possibly facing prison himself to welcome law enforcement with open arms.