Every weekend a contingent of Hartford Police officers are hired on overtime to maintain order in the streets surrounding the bars near Union Place as the bars are running and for a while after they close to control the crowds. The area has been the source of quite a few shootings and gunfire as well as fights and general drunken behavior. The "Downtown Special" as the assignment of officers is called seems to do a decent job of quelling the potential violence.
Apparently this past weekend after word of raises for the Mayor and his Chief of Staff started making the rounds it didn't sit well with people. As the previous posting detailed, Hartford Police officers have been working without a contract and also without raises for nearly two years. Apparently the Mayor's handling of his raise and the $20,000 raise for his Chief of Staff made some officers sick. The "Downtown Special" assignment seems to have went home sick Saturday night.
That has now created another problem as HPD sources are telling me that the "Downtown Special" has now been cancelled indefinitely.
I have a couple problems with this. First off, it used to be that cruisers were pulled from several neighborhoods to block off streets and control traffic usually from around midnight to after 2:00am when the bars emptied out. I always felt that was done at the expense of the neighborhoods that deserved those cruisers to be patrolling the neighborhoods they were assigned to.
More importantly though is why this is allowed to be such a burden on the HPD budget. Roughly $5,000 is spent every weekend from the Police overtime budget to facilitate the "Downtown Special". That is money that should be spent elsewhere, no other neighborhood, with the exception of the "North Main detail", has the luxury of this type of coverage.
The North Main detail was instituted to patrol the area of North Main Street after many complaints of unruly behavior, traffic problems, public urination and other quality of life issues from the club patrons on North main Street.
If the bars are creating the problem, shouldn't they be paying for the solution? In cities like Springfield, MA, it seems like every club has two officers hired for the doors of the clubs to maintain order. Why aren't we doing that in Hartford? There probably aren't two many clubs in the Union Place area that couldn't be classified as a "nuisance" and be required to hire officers if they want to remain open.
I don't think this was the way to get the Mayor's attention. I would have suggested informational picketing at every stop Mayor Segarra makes until a union contract is signed. The Mayor is very image conscious and anything questioning his leadership would most likely prove embarrassing and result in some serious negotiations.
It also puts the other officers in danger anytime the HPD is short staffed. Without the downtown special, regular patrol units would have to answer any calls for service in the Union Place area and the show of force for an area with thousands of bar patrons, many highly intoxicated at 2:00am, just won't be there and it could result in officers getting injured.
I am quite confident that Mayor Segarra is aware that we routinely lose officers to other agencies, many times based purely on better pay and benefits. That cost the City of Hartford quite a bit when you consider the investment that is made in recruiting, testing , academy training and ongoing training. The raises at a time like this for the Mayor and his Chief of Staff are wrong and so is stalling the HPD Union contract.
Some true leaders need to step up and get this done before it hurts the residents of Hartford more.
A request for comment from HPD has not been received yet, if and when a comment is received, I will post it here. In the meantime, West Hartford Center might be the safer bet for your weekend entertainment