As any regular reader of this blog is well aware, I have no problem criticizing the Hartford Police Department when I think they deserve it. I also believe in fairness and will defend HPD when I think that is fair.
Most people will agree the print media, and for that matter media outlets in general, are not what they used to be. The news cycle now is driven by the latest rapes or sex crimes, homicides and events that tend to emphasize the sensationalism that attracts readers and viewers like moths to a flame. I get that and I hope most people can understand what drives the media and realize that there is a lot more that we never hear about.
A "cartoon" and the attached comments in our local paper of last resort this week really set off my "fairness meter". The "cartoon" depicted a Hartford Police officer lying in a hammock with bullets flying with the comment "we're on it". After the violent weekend the city just experienced, is it fair to put the blame on HPD? Is HPD responsible for raising and nurturing young persons that think nothing of putting a gun to someones chest and pulling the trigger?
And for the comments from the retired Hartford Fire Department captain and former City Councilman quoted in both the article and the cartoon's explanation, this downfall of our City has been going on for decades, there is more than enough blame to go around.
Would it then be fair if we suddenly experience a weekend of tragic fires where people die in a fire to depict Hartford firefighters laying in a hammock with hoses leaking all around them? The rationale seems the same, if people die in a fire it must be directly attributable to the laziness of HFD.
The article also had a quote from the former Councilman that he only sees police officers in his neighborhood when the officers are working construction jobs.
With the amount of road work going on in the City, those officers are a much appreciated presence by most neighborhoods and residents. They should be even more appreciated when people realize that those officers cost us nothing, not one penny, since they are paid for by the contractors. In reality, the city actually makes money off every one of them standing out there.
The fact of the matter is also that even though they are there to direct traffic around construction sites, they are still police officers and just their presence is a deterrent. Is there a problem with a handful of officers and the hours they work and is the City being properly served when their work their regular shift? Most likely, but that is something for the next Chief to address.
The cartoon might have been more accurate depicting Hartford's Chief Operating Officer David Panagore in the hammock with Mayor Segarra serving Panagore an iced tea. That is rightfully where the blame properly lies. Most people would agree that Segarra seems to answer to Panagore. If the opposite were true, Segarra would have ended the sham search with Panagore's consulting buddies and we would have had a permanent Police Chief months ago.
The truth is that acting Chief James Rovella is working with one hand tied behind his back and that hand has been tied by Panagore.Rovella is unable to make any major personnel changes and his Command Staff at this point is more about survival for themselves than it is about assisting Rovella to move the Department forward. Segarra is well aware of this and continues to let it happen. Rovella knows what he needs to do to make Hartford safer, but he is not being allowed to do it.
It might be interesting to see a reporter go to the resident's of Edwards Street or Williams Street to interview them on their opinion of HPD. The offices for the Shooting Task Force as well as the PAL program and the Police Academy sit squarely in this neighborhood in a school that was pretty much written off by the Hartford School System.
Maybe the resident's would tell the story of how Chief Rovella went to the obvious drug dealers conducting business on the street corner and told them it was time for them to move. Guess what? They moved.
Since the Shooting Task Force took up residence on Willaims Street almost a year ago, the reduction in crime and calls for service in the surrounding streets has been dramatic. Neighbors are no longer afraid to come outside, their street is no longer run by drug dealers and crime. The numbers citywide have also been impressive overall and the number of shooting victims and homicides is well under this time last year. That didn't happen by luck.
Although the work of the Shooting Task Force under Rovella has been impressive, the Task force doesn't work in a vacuum. The Major Crimes Division has also been doing a stellar job in bringing about arrests of those thugs responsible for the homicides. Prior to the recent homicides, which I am told have solid leads that will most likely result in arrests, four of the first five murders of the year had resulted in arrests. That is a pretty good average that isn't achieved by detectives swinging in a hammock while the bullets fly.
Even the Patrol Division has been decimated by attrition that City hall refuses to keep up with. A class of twenty or twenty-five new officers hardly keeps up with the projected loos of up to 50 officers this year alone. That attrition rate is from the Mayor's own numbers, and if the way City Hall runs the numbers, that number is probably far from accurate.
The Patrol Division is not only understaffed, but its resources are being taxed by the implementation of "Shot Spotter". So far the activations are running between 95 and 98% false. Although we were sold on "Shot Spotter"at community meetings as being such an intelligent system that would differentiate between gunfire and other noises such as fireworks, car backfires and other noises, that seem to be proving untrue.
We definitely now know that we have a problem with fireworks in Hartford and even that the Barry Square neighborhood has seen a drastic increase in "construction noise". Yes, even jackhammers and dumptrucks are setting off shot spotter. Unfortunately for HPD, every activation requires a response by two officers and a supervisor from Patrol, whether it is a jackhammer or 9mm round. One officer familiar with the system half-jokingly told me he thought he could stand in the street and if he clapped his hands loud enough "Shot Spotter" would go off.
I was going to get into the root of the problem, the breakdown of our parenting structures and our mentality that children seem to be brought up now that shooting someone is "OK", but I think you get my point. Our Police Department is there to enforce laws, not to be raising Hartford's children and teaching them right from wrong. I really don't think that is fair to blame HPD when we have parents, schools, churches and neighborhoods that should be doing that.
We will see many more "bad weekends" if that message doesn't start getting out.